Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Review of Ravenwood by Andrew Peters

In Ravenwood, Andrew Peters gives us a world in the treetops. Either these are really gigantic trees, or people have shrunken. I'm pretty sure it's the former, despite the presence of creatures like monster ravens and worms.

The Dendrans' religion has to do with the goddess Diana, though it has been largely overtaken by a newer, more militant belief system represented by a group of Dendrans known as the Holly Woodsmen. (Peters gets a little carried away with tree puns. For example, Buddy Holly's name is used here, and the word "holly" acts both as "holy" and as a reference to hell.) Here's a glimpse of the leafy world of Arborium:
He ignored the fast-food stall, shoehorned into a dark alcove of the trunk, and wearily trudged on down the steps toward the lower levels. This way took him past the inner doors and windows of apartments hollowed out into the heartwood: prime property for the rich, but far out of reach of a plumber's income. The steps continued, winding down and down the central trunk, and the crowds eventually began to thin as he descended to the lower levels. Finally, a poorly patched-up gate swung open, revealing his local branch line. He stepped out into a land of shadows. The twilight had problems reaching this far. Night came earlier for the poor.

Our hero, Ark, short for Arkorius Malikum, has the inglorious job of apprentice plumber. This means he has a lot of interactions with poop, known herein as "squit." Ark is on a plumbing job when he has a run-in with an old enemy from his school days, Petronio, who is studying to be a surgeon, though he seems more interested in being an assassin. Unfortunately, while Ark is working on the pipes he overhears the boy's father, Counselor Grasp, talking with an enemy spy from Maw about his treasonous plot against the king. Moments later, Ark is fleeing along the branches of his treetop town with Grasp's two favorite minions right behind him, intent on his death.

Ark tricks the guards and gets home, but his life as he knows it is over. He must hide from Counselor Grasp and his men, leaving his job and his family behind. He wants to warn the king, but how? Ark enlists the help of a burly co-worker named Mucum and sets out to save the kingdom of Arborium from the would-be invaders. Along the way, he meets a group of low-dwelling Dendrans called the Rootshooters and discovers the true nature of his own heritage.

But the author doesn't just follow Ark's quest; he also gives us the journey of Ark's opposite number, Petronio. Grasp's son is quickly sucked into the treacherous plots of the spy from Maw, a woman named Fenestra. She represents a country across the sea that has no trees at all and covets the wealth of the Dendrans' wood. Fortunately, the trees have their own defenses. Unfortunately, Fenestra has plenty of evil plans up her sleeve.

Boy readers in particular will probably enjoy the frequent fights and chase scenes, not to mention the even more frequent close encounters with squit.

I have mixed feelings about Ravenwood. On the one hand, Peters does an amazing job of world-building in his book, which you'll swear is fantasy in the first half and suspect is dystopian science fiction in the second half. But I didn't fall completely in love with the characters. I also had a little trouble with things like the dialect used by the Rootshooters, some of the creatures randomly thrown into the mix, and a section of the book that positively blurs by, leaving Ark with semi-superpowers afterwards for somewhat unclear reasons.

I also noticed that two of the four villains appeared to get away in the end. (Despite talk of their probable death, their escape is remarkably parallel to one of Ark's many narrow escapes earlier in the book.) So—we are clearly gearing up for a sequel.

Yep, I'm quibbling. There are a lot of fun things going on in this book, not the least of which is the use of Ark's baby sister's hair-raising scream as a secret weapon. I'm hoping the next book flows more smoothly and that I find myself warming up to Ark and his buddies just a little more.

Here is Andrew Peters reading a selection from the book. You can visit the website he shares with his wife to find out more about Ravenwood.

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