Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Sylvain Reynard - The Raven

Raven Wood spends her days at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery restoring fine works of Renaissance art. But an innocent walk home after an evening with friends changes her life forever. When she intervenes in the senseless beating of a homeless man, his attackers turn on her, dragging her into an alley. Raven is only semi-conscious when their assault is interrupted by a cacophony of growls followed by her attacker’s screams. Mercifully, she blacks out, but not before catching a glimpse of a shadowy figure who whispers to her…
Cassita vulneratus.
When Raven awakes, she is inexplicably changed. She returns to the Uffizi, but no one recognizes her and more disturbingly, she discovers that she’s been absent an entire week. With no recollection of the events leading up to her disappearance, Raven also learns that her absence coincides with one of the largest robberies in Uffizi history – the theft of a set of priceless Botticelli illustrations. When the baffled police force identifies her as its prime suspect, Raven is desperate to clear her name. She seeks out one of Florence’s wealthiest and elusive men in an attempt to uncover the truth about her disappearance. Their encounter leads Raven to a dark underworld whose inhabitants kill to keep their secrets…

Comment: I've had this book to read for years, since I've read another trilogy by the author (apparently there's a fourth installment now) and because those books captivated me, I also purchased this one, but it has been languishing in the pile until now.

In this book we meet heroine Raven, a restorer at the prestigious Uffizzi gallery, who lives a simple and quiet life, not only because it suits her personality but also because she has a limp which makes it painful to embark on a more active lifestyle. One night she sees a homeless man she is familiar with being attacked by a group of drunks and she can't be quiet. They turn on her instead and as she is about to be hurt, someone rescues her and kills the attackers. Raven wakes up the morning after with a completely different appearance, her limp cured and friends having  hard time believing it's her, especially since it has passed one week since they last saw her. Going back to her daily routine is even more complicated because she can't explain her absence and some valuable paintings are missing from the gallery. When she stumbles on a clue, however, she can't know she is entering a dangerous world...

This is well thought story, with a lot of detail and cultural information, which I had seen in the other books by the author, clearly showcasing knowledge on Renaissance and art, with a fictional story included. I feel that it was as important to the author to create a possible love story as it was to explain and give context to a lot of the historical information included. I think anyone who likes these themes will enjoy going into this story.

For me, the reason why this story wasn't as amazing as I imagined was very simple: the romance didn't convince me because the differences between the protagonists were made to be such an obstacle that I struggled to see them as HEA material. On one hand yes, one has to bear in mind this is one of three books, so the whole story wasn't told here, but this said, thinking on what does happen, I confess I don't feel eager to read the rest and, therefore, the romance feels lacking enough support to be believable.

Raven is a young woman who sort of reinvented herself by becoming a restorer and her academic work brought her to Italy, where she feels she has reached a steady work persona. She might have a predictable life but she likes being in control and as the story advances we learn things from her past, all which make it realistic she would have wanted a new life away from the US. She has a likable personality, she isn't perfect but she is definitely heroine material.

The hero is, actually, a vampire. I won't go into spoilers but he's an old soul and has become jaded as the years went by. Nevertheless, he has a taste for art and history and I could appreciate certain ideas from his POV. Of course he has that whole "mystery" vibe going on, making him alluring and special somehow and he helps the heroine, he likes and desires her despite her notions of her physical aspect and he seems to go into romantic mode by the end of the book, meaning we can imagine the potential romance when the trilogy ends.

This makes me think the romance, to be developed in three books, has room to grow and I believe when the trilogy ends we will have them more in sync, in love and not afraid to demonstrate it. However, for me there's also a big reason why I don't feel like carrying on, to find out how/when it will happen: the thing is, in these books vampires aren't the good guys. The hero seems to be an anomaly and, I assume, because it suits the story, romance-wise, and because it helps to distinguish him from the others, being "cured" out of his apathy and negative aspects by love.

There's nothing wrong with this tactic, things are as they are and if the author went this road, who am I to say it shouldn't be so, but I've been severely ruined by so many PNR novels or series out there where the vampires can be the good guys. I now have a hard time putting them again into a box of  "enemy" or "horror" and admit I felt frustrated by how things went in this regard, there being a division between humans and vampires. I suppose it does suit the tone of the series, the whole historical atmosphere and old kinds of stories where the out of the ordinary was not to be trusted but part of me wished things had been different.

This aside, I liked the pace enough, most of the details too...Still, I think, for such an important and visible place as a famous gallery must be, things were too weird and lacked believable explanations for too long for me to just enjoy the inconsistencies... for instance, with Raven's presence and absence at work, how her looks changed and how others didn't found it weird long enough and other apparently unimportant elements but that still distracted me.

All in all, this wasn't a bad book, don't get me wrong. It's sufficiently structured for it to offer a steady reading and years ago, it might have meant a lot more to me, but nowadays, even recognizing this, I still wish it had focused on a different tactic overall.
Grade: 6/10

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