Review: CHASING RAVENS by Jessica E. Paige

I really wanted to call this Chasing Raisins, which almost makes as much sense as the actual title.  Anyway here’s another review, thanks to the good people at NetGalley who got me a copy of this book.  One day I will post other things, like my thoughts on Glee or the difference in watching the Hobbit 3 in 24 fps vs. 48 fps.  Nah, nobody wants me to write about those things.  Okay, fine, you can have a review instead.

CHASING RAVENS does not lack for imagination, but unfortunately it takes half the book before the story truly shows off that imagination. The first 40% or so is merely set-up leading to the curse that Anouk sets off to vanquish. The first two chapters could have easily been combined into one source of Anouk’s history. In fact, I have no idea why we spend so long with her uncle’s family at all, when the betrothal that causes her to run away could have easily come from her original village, thus letting us skip at least a fourth of that set-up. Sometimes a long set-up is necessary, but I didn’t feel it was here. In this case it was fairly repetitive. Here’s Anouk’s life in village 1 with her dad and grandma. Here’s Anouk’s life in village 2 with her uncle’s family. And here’s Anouk’s life in village 3, which she cares enough to fight about. It also could give us time to really feel for the main character or feel the deep sense of need behind her quest. And that’s what this should have been.

Unfortunately, I found Anouk too hard to connect to. Some of this was the writing. A lot of telling and filtering kept me from feeling what Anouk was feeling. It kept me from feeling like I was right there with Anouk, gathering herbs, riding her mare, making connections with people. When we are told that she has fallen in love, we accept it because the guy is logically the one she should fall for. The only other two potential candidates were 1) a guy the book abandoned about 20% in with no real connection between the two and 2) the guy who creates the need for the quest. In the latter’s case, any feelings Anouk has for him, again, are told to us rather than felt by us, and the scene where he attempts to kiss Anouk seems to be there simply to make the reader not trust him, since Anouk seems barely affected by it (even how it might affect her friendship with her best friend, the girl who he’s been courting). It is only in the last moments of being together and in the epilogue that Anouk seems to have anything resembling romantic feelings with the guy she has supposedly fallen in love with.

The disconnect with Anouk also makes it hard to care for much of the cast she comes into contact with in the last village. For example, Anouk mentions how much she likes a certain character and I realize that I have no idea who this character is beyond what she just said about him, nor whether we met him before. Being told about much of the village with only a few real interactions makes it hard to recall any of the names beyond those few. When someone from the village dies, I had no clue what his connection to Anouk actually was.

Once the action begins, about halfway in, the book is a lot more riveting. Anouk meets many fantastical beings and plants in the Dark Woods, and we ride along with her at a fairly quick pace. I did feel that she had a bit too much “help” once she got in. It wasn’t so much “Find the next plot coupon” as “Find the next character coupon.” But there were plenty of things she did herself, and that made the quest satisfying enough.

The title “Chasing Ravens,” is a little misleading, as the ravens, while a source of conflict, weren’t focused on as much as other things, and she wasn’t doing anything resembling chasing them.

I enjoyed the real-life environmental issues, like the problem of overhunting (What I really liked about that was that several times it was mentioned that more hunters should go out as a positive thing, before we were presented with the real-world concern of overhunting) and that the curse caused by the ravens was basically mold.

One final note, the distance created in the storytelling makes the story feel much younger than the main character’s age would suggest it is. By her age, this should be YA, but the storytelling is not YA at all.

Recommended for fans of: fantasy; Russian setting; distant storytelling; herb magic; archery; horses; slooooow beginnings; fantasy problems based in real science; mechanical romance; trolls; woodsmen

Lots of love,
Sage

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