The Raven’s Tale by Cat Winters

Raven'sThe Raven’s Tale is an imagining of a short period of Edgar Allan Poe’s teenage years spent under the care of his foster parents the Allans.  The story begins with Edgar poised on the brink of leaving his home to attend university.  A move that he looks forward to with great relish.  Not just to work hard and make something of himself but to also escape the clutches of his ‘pa’ who constantly browbeats him regarding his artistic calling.

This is an almost poetic tale, dark and gothic with plenty of imagination worked into the pages that could easily have inspired this young author to write such poetry and stories.

Ultimately, I have mixed feelings for this one but I think that’s more because I’m not really a reader who enjoys poetry and so whilst this is beautifully written it probably appealed less to me than it will to others.

The description of the books has this to say:

Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family—the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

As the story begins we make the acquaintance of a young Edgar, an orphan, cared for by the Allans.  Straight away it’s clear that Edgar is unhappy in his day to day family life.  His pa constantly berates him about his poetry and the two frequently argue.  Edgar is desperate to attend university but his attendance hinges on his behaviour and the cessation of his need to pen romantic or macabre poems.  When his muse appears to him literally, made manifest by his own wild imagination and dressed in cinders and soot Edgar fears that his dreams may all be ruined.  He needs to keep his muse hidden but she longs for recognition.

Edgar has a young love interest in one of his neighbours, Elmira Royster.  Unfortunately, the Allens being new money and the Royster’s being an old established family of Richmond a match between the two will never be forthcoming but they can but dream, making puppy eyes and promises to each other whenever they can steal a moment of privacy.

So much of Edgar’s happiness rests on his ability to make a success of himself and yet when he eventually leaves for university he is immediately thrown into a calamity by a shortage of funds.  His pa has not left him with sufficient to meet his needs and so Edgar eventually resorts to drastic measures all the while with his muse refusing to be hidden.

What I enjoyed about the Raven’s Tale was the gothic feel and the way the author has wrangled certain elements into the story that give a possible glimpse of where Edgar found inspiration.  His own tragic family background led him to a fascination with death and the dead.  He’s a very sensitive boy, quite prone to let his emotions and imagination run amok and he definitely suffers from angst.  From this story, and whether it bears any relation to true events in this respect I’m not sure, but it becomes very apparent that Edgar and his pa are pretty much polar opposites, chalk and cheese.  Their opinions and sensitives couldn’t be further removed even if they tried and they simply can’t get along together.  This is what drives part of the narrative, Edgar’s struggle to either come to terms with who he is and accept his muse and embrace his artistic calling, or follow in a more traditional way of life, working for his pa and earning a ‘respectable’ living.

If you look at Edgar and his pa you could actually find fault with both to be honest.  I did have a good deal of sympathy with Edgar but at the same time I could see how he was in some respects his own worst enemy.  Take for example the debts he runs up whilst in his first year of university.  His debts certainly suggest a level of extravagance that even had his father left more money – it would hardly have covered his eventual expenses.

In terms of criticisms, I think this was a fairly quick read and quite a short story.  For me it felt a little thin in parts and I think the gothic elements could have been expanded on a little to create more atmosphere.  I found myself a little perplexed by the manifestation of Edgar’s muse and felt it was a very strange storyline – particularly as Edgar and Lenore both narrate alternate chapters, and it was just so difficult to like Lenore – her chapters were so unusual.  I think I would have preferred it if Lenore was only visible to Edgar, maybe to appear in shadows and the like giving the book an added creep factor, as it was I just really struggled to come to terms with the situation.

Overall, this one didn’t quite work for me but I imagine it will work well for others.  I think that had I known that the poetry would be more the focus for the story, and indeed the style of writing, I probably wouldn’t have requested a copy as I know that poetry isn’t really my style and I rarely read any.  Sorry, but there it is and I cannot tell a lie or pretend otherwise.

Like I said, this is beautifully written and I do feel guilty that I couldn’t love it more but I still recommend this, particularly to a young adult audience and to lovers of poetry and Poe. On this occasion I think it’s more ‘me than you’.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Edelweiss, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.