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Ravenheart: A Novel of the Rigante    by David Gemmell order for
by David Gemmell
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Raveheart is the third in an epic series by David Gemmell, one of the best of fantasy writers today. The Rigante are a Celtic race, reminiscent of Highland Scots. The first of this set of novels, Sword in the Storm, followed the fortunes of Connavar, Demonblade, who joined the Varlish armies before he led his own people to defeat them. In Midnight Falcon, Connavar's bastard son Bane was shunned by his father and fought in the City of Stone as a gladiator, before reconciling with the Rigante.

This third novel is set eight hundred years after Connavar's time in Eldacre, originally the Rigante center of government Old Oaks. The Varlish conquerors and their 'beetlebacks' have rewritten history and forbidden the tribal colors and the Keltoi language. It is a repressive rule, intended to keep the tribes poor and uneducated. The local Varlish authority, the Moidart, has a personal hatred for the conquered people, since his wife loved their leader Lanovar, whom the Moidart betrayed and killed while under safe conduct. Soon afterwards Lanovar's wife gave birth to Kaelin, who was raised by his aunt Maev and his father's friend Jaim. Unsure of the parentage of his own son Gaise Macon, the Moidart has always treated him coldly.

Magic is all but gone from this world, what remains being nurtured by the Wyrd of Wishing Tree Wood. The magic and strength of the Rigante is personified by Jaim Grymauch, a larger than life rogue and drunkard, whose exploits are admired by both races. Jaim steals bulls, by singing to them, and tries to impart his own hard learned wisdom to Kaelin (whose soul name is Ravenheart) when the boy kills too easily ... 'I am not responsible for the way other men live their lives ... only how I live mine.' One of the joys in Gemmell's fantasy is the banter amongst his characters, in this volume in particular between Jaim and Maev who will not admit their love for each other ... after being awakened early by Maev, Jaim asks for time to 'find my brain', to the rejoinder 'By heaven, Grymauch, you'd need ten expert trackers and a wizard to find such a mythical beast.'

There are evil acts by Varlish, which lead to Kaelin's withdrawal to the Black Rigante country to the north-west, where he falls for the rebel leader's daughter Chara. As an ambitious military underling aided by a weak and envious clansman who 'saw life through a distorting mirror' stirs up trouble there, Maev's financial brilliance and business success leads her into peril in Eldacre, where church and state politics clash. There is plenty of action, during which some weak characters find the strength to do great things and the downtrodden Rigante see that a few of their Varlish neighbors are capable of acting with honor in support of justice. In particular, the author makes the point that the pivotal act of a great man can ignite ordinary people who would otherwise stand by and condone evil acts by their own inaction.

Gemmell writes fantasy with great heart, a strong dose of philosophy and unrelenting action. If you haven't discovered this author yet, then his Rigante series is a good a place to start. Fortunately it looks like it will continue beyond this volume with further adventures of Kaelin and Gaise.

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