The Black Raven is the second book in the Dragon Mage sequence from Katharine Kerr. Once again, we spend the majority of the book in the past, exploring Lillorigga's burgeoning dweomer power and her relationship to the various souls who she is destined to encounter again when she becomes Niffa in the future. At the moment it is fairly confusing trying to keep straight who is who in both the past and the current incarnations. The only person who I can really keep straight is Maddyn the bard (in the past) becoming Rhodry Maelwaedd (in the current), and this is due to the silver rose ring.
Once again I would urge anyone interested in this book to trek right back to the beginning of the books (starting with Daggerspell). Kerr herself has explained that her books should be seen almost as three acts in a play, or as a Celtic knot, whereby the complicated pattern will only become clear once you have seen the whole.
Although I adore spending time in the past - particularly with Lillorigga, who I believe to be one of Kerr's strongest characters - in this instance I became frustrated with the fact that Rhodry's story has not progressed AT ALL in two books. He is still sitting in Cengarn, waiting for the longest winter in the world to end so that his plot can move forward. The only times we ever visit Rhodry is so that we can be introduced to a particular storyline from the past, such as why Raena and Rhodry feel such enmity.
Saying this, the book is still worthy of four stars in my opinion, because Kerr writes the past so beautifully. In fact, barring the few outright mentions of dweomer or Wildfolk, this could be a very strong historical novel about Celtic times. She brings to life the politics, the in-fighting, the heraldry, the weaponry. It is very easy to enjoy all of the little details that she adds. One I would mention is the fact that the characters only know medicine and surgery as much as though living in those times for real would know. So, when the princess Bellyra is suffering from postnatal depression, Nevyn talks about her humours being out of balance. I also love how he ponders why some wounds fester, while others don't, and why blood can be different colours depending on where the body is cut in battle. This is all matters that you would expect chirurgeons of the time to be frustrated by.
Nevyn was also a deeply welcome return to the Deverry books, both in this novel and the previous. During the Westlands cycle he was absent and I found Jill unable to fill his shoes. Despite his massive dweomer power, he is wise and compassionate and enjoys the details of people's lives. He takes apprentices willingly and with patience. He is definitely one of the strongest parts of the Deverry series and it is a joy to read more of him.
All in all, really enjoyed this and cantered through the rather slight volume (in comparison to prior books in the series). Looking forward to the next.