Fiction Reviews

The World Raven

(2016) A. J. Smith, Head of Zeus, £20.00, hrdbk, 477pp, ISBN 978-1-784-08090-7


This is one of those books you enjoy, despite yourself.

Firstly, the quote (I guess written for a review of another of Smith’s books – I’ll come back to that later) which is plastered all over the front and spine of the dust-jacket - ‘Martin meets Lovecraft’. Having never read any of the ‘Game of Thrones’ books (I know, heresy: though I have read some of Martin’s short fiction and enjoyed it), but a long time enjoyer of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories, I thought, ‘Why not give it a whirl?’ and in many ways it met my expectations.

The ‘Martin’ parts were classic ‘Fantasy-trilogy’ descriptions of armies, battles, strong women and wicked enchanters – all very Tolkien. What was the bonus were the ‘Lovecraft’ parts. Smith has taken part of the mythos – Shub-Niggurath, which in this book becomes Shub-Nillurath (I suspect, though this is only a guess, because of the connotations that the name might have to modern ears – try spelling it out) – and has grafted it onto a sword and sorcery novel. And it fits very well. The descriptions of the horror of the Cthulhu-type monster as seen by these warriors, etc., is perhaps more explicit than was described by Lovecraft, but these are different characters living in a much more blood-thirsty epoch, and so their reactions would be not be the same.

Secondly, I quickly discovered that the book was part of a series, The Chronicles of the Long War, none of which I had read before. So for the first few chapters I was floundering a bit, trying to work out what connected with what. The back-story seems interesting, so I may order the other books in the series at some stage. But my guess is that the quote ‘Martin meets …’ relates to one of the other books in the Chronicle. There is a ‘Bestiary’ and a list of characters at the back of the book, which sort of helped.

And then there is my usual bugbear – the maps. Because this is a ‘Fantasy-trilogy’ novel, the maps cover vast sweeps of country, as far as the raven can fly, etc., etc., but they were so reduced in size as to be difficult to discern details. So, as the book came out in the 21st century I wondered were the maps on the internet so they could be a bit clearer? But no. OK, perhaps I could scan them and make them a bit bigger – but no. (Perhaps it is my poor computer skills, having only used one for the last 20 years). A big plea – if you are going to include maps, please make them USABLE!

So back to my opening line. I enjoyed this book, despite myself (and the maps). And I would recommend the series to anyone who wanted the combine the two genres of fantasy writing: Martin meets Lovecraft.

Peter Young

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