Book Tour Review: The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Title: The Raven's Heart
Author: Jesse Blackadder
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 462 (ARC edition)
Published: January 2011
Source: HFVBT for review
Rating: 4/5

 Scotland, 1561, and a ship comes across the North Sea carrying home Mary, the young, charismatic Queen of Scots, returning after thirteen years in the French court to wrest back control of her throne.

The Blackadder family has long awaited for the Queen's return to bring them justice. Alison Blackadder, disguised as a boy from childhood to protect her from the murderous clan that stole their lands, must learn to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, building a web of dependence and reward.

Just as the Queen can trust nobody, Alison discovers lies, danger, and treachery at every turn.

This sweeping, imaginative, and original tale of political intrigue, misplaced loyalty, secret passion, and implacable revenge is based on real characters and events from the reign of Mary Queen of Scots.

An impressive and lengthy historical fiction debut from an author with a unique perspective, Jesse Blackadder explores and animates Scotland in the 1500's with this detailed and epic look at a family desperate for their ancestral inheritance during the time of the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. With some of the hallmarks expected from a novel looking at a treacherous Court of an unsteady Queen like betrayal, deception and unrequited love, Blackadder still manages to inject some new ideas and characters into a story well-known hundreds of years later. With a tagline of "a story of a quest, a castle, and Mary, Queen of Scots" I had a feeling this would be a novel right up my alley - and I was right. I was vastly entertained by Blackadder's vision, and found myself both eager for resolution and reluctant to end my time with such indelible characters.

The strongest aspect of the novel is without a doubt the main character and narrator of Alison Blackadder. I can honestly say that this complicated and realistic young woman is utterly unlike any other historical fiction protagonist I have ever read before. I always love reading about girls disguising themselves as boys - to spy, to learn, whatever the cause may be - and Alison's years masquerading as a young man named Robert left a mark on her character. She is androgynous, bisexual, smart, patient, and above all, authentic in all her various manifestations. There are some obvious parallels between her and her Queenly counterpart - two displaced young woman desperate to come into their own and their inheritance, one as a Queen and the other as noble without her ancestral castle - but Alison is unique, and interesting. Even more so than the Queen she loves and cannot escape, Alison commands a lot of attention. I thought her narration was consistently strong, and the benefit of having such a unique voice is not lost as the pages rapidly add up.

Alison/Robert is the strongest in a strong cast, but Blackadder extends the same believability and roundedness to her other players. Mary, the Queen, is conflicted and willful, dangerous and scared, determined and unsure; one never can know which way this Queen will turn. Her personal evolution over the six years that are covered in the novel is natural, and in tune with the historical record. It can be hard to re-imagine such a prominent figure in English/Scottish history, but Blackadder is more than up to the task, as she proves with The Raven's Heart. Her Mary is just as engaging and compelling as that from more established writers, and can stand up to similar versions like the one Margaret George rendered in Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles. The latter may have been the first novel about this infamous queen I had read, but Blackadder proves she can match and improve on what has been printed before.The relationship between the two central female characters is the foundation of the novel and for much of Alison's actions throughout, and I found it refreshing to have two such varied, but strong, illustrations of women in a time when those few and far between.

Blackadder's personal history with the real-world lost castle that Alison maneuvers for adds another layer to an already fresh take on the story. I loved the historical facts mixed so seamlessly into the novel, but it was Alison's fictional plot about a real castle, one that the author has legitimate ties to, that captivated me the most during my read of The Raven's Heart. Alison and her quest are imagined, but they felt real while I was reading. I invested early with this character, and through her hurts and her far-too-few triumphs, I was always hoping for the best, if not expecting things to fall how I wanted. Blackadder doesn't necessarily end the story the way one would expect, and though the frequent back-and-forth nature during the last 100 pages made me slightly dizzy, I loved how the quest came to its fruition. I could've done without a few of the turnarounds - after the third, I stopped counting - but it was well worth the wait to see how it all fell to for Alison, her father, and her future.

A unique perspective, a well-drawn and realistic main character, an involving plot and a more than well-set scene make The Raven's Heart a welcome addition to the well-known story of Mary, Queen of Scots. A rather dense novel with easy and blunt prose, this is a book that will linger in my memory. I look forward to whatever else Jesse Blackadder does in the future with her considerable talent, and also to the future rereads and fun I will have with her historical fiction debut.

Don't miss the tour stops still to come!

Thursday, December 6 
Review & Giveaway at Griperang's Bookmarks

Friday, December 7
Review & Giveaway at Paperback Princess

Monday, December 10
Review at Book Journey
Review & Giveaway at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!

Tuesday, December 11
Review & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick

Wednesday, December 12
Review at Bonjour Cass
Review at The Worm Hole

Thursday, December 13
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

Friday, December 14
Review at Book Dilettante

Monday, December 17
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader

Tuesday, December 18
Review at One Book at a Time
Review & Giveaway at Book of Secrets

Wednesday, December 19
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee

Thursday, December 20
Review at The Musings of a Book Junkie
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time

Friday, December 21
Review at JulzReads
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Review at Raging Bibliomania


  1. Omg, how did I miss crossdressing bisexual heroine?! zomg, I am so freakin' excited now!!

    1. She doesn't out and out call herself buusexual, but she loves and is attracted to both sexes over the course of the novel.. so I am calling her that.

      She's really, really well-written. I loved the new perspective.

  2. Sounds like a very interesting novel, and it's not often that you see an author having a real historical connection to their characters and setting.


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