I have loved the story of King Arthur, his knights, Merlin, and Mordred, since reading the classic in middle school. And then Stephen Lawhead reignited this love when I read his retelling in high school. I'll be honest: when I saw this was another, more modern retelling I was a bit skeptical. Retellings in general aren't my favorite. But Ravenmaster's Revenge had so many unique elements to it that my skepticism disappeared. This book is told from an omniscient narrative POV, which is definitely in the vein of the classics. I admired the author's choice to tell a modern story with a classic feel. Since omniscient narrative head hops, I at first had a hard time getting into the story, but once I did, it felt natural. Part of me wishes it had been told more modern, but on the other hand, I like that the author chose not to. I guess I can't have my cake and eat it, too.
Another interesting thing to note was the duality of the timelines. There were two separate, but related, stories being told. First there was the modern timeline, where King Arthur is living in London with a few of his knights - but not all of them - while waiting for something. It gradually comes out through the historical timeline what it is he is waiting for, but the first introduction to him is of a man living outside his comfort zone, in a world where swords and knights are no longer needed. Even Merlin is disguised as a beggar on the streets.
The historical timelines drops you in on a battle between Arthur and his son, Mordred, who is wanting to take over the kingdom for himself. They kill each other, but Merlin arrives in time to cast a spell before Arthur dies that he will reawaken when he is desperately needed. Now enters my main complaint of the story: we don't ever get an explanation of the magic involved. It's just assumed through the narrative that magic exists and Merlin is powerful, and can cast such a spell. And even the nemesis, Branok, can wield such magic, even so that he can call the dead into ravens to be his familiars. Even though this lack of explanation irked me, it didn't entirely detract from my enjoyment of the novel.
Branok is the antagonist of the story. Where Arthur is Merlin's protege, so to speak, Branok wants one of his own from the Stuart line, and when Charles the first dies, he is devastated and blames Arthur and Merlin, for various reasons. Hence begins several centuries of bitterness wherein Branok seeks to keep the Stuarts on the throne and exact his revenge on Merlin and Arthur.
I won't go into the ins and outs of the plot much further except to say I really enjoyed this twist on the classic tale. Between dueling timelines, unique twists to the plot, a relateable antagonist, scary raven-ghost-demons, and good ol' fashioned swords and battles, I found myself flying through the story.
One thing I wish is that there had been more female characters. Really, the only ones we see playing any major role in the story is the demon-raven-scary things. However, I once again found myself not bothered too much by it. And in retrospect, it's actually quite impressive that an entire book can be written and still be entertaining without ANY noteworthy female presence. Part of me is annoyed, but then, part of me is grudgingly impressed.
I'm definitely interested to see where this book lands, especially with those who aren't fans of the original tale. I'd imagine there will be mixed feelings across the board, since it doesn't hit exactly all the boxes for either modern or classic fans. Kudos to the author for an entertaining take on a great story. The things I wished had been better were pretty significant, but not enough to detract from my overall enjoyment.