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The Raven's Seal by Andrei Baltakmens

The Raven's Seal

by Andrei Baltakmens

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4115279,442 (3.53)10
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    The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard (Cecilturtle)
    Cecilturtle: 19th century mystery with Edgar Allan Poe

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This book came from Netgalley for review (a long time ago – sorry about that) – thank you to NG and the publisher.

I seem to say this a lot lately: this was not what I expected. It’s a Dickensian, Dumas-esque, dark mystery with fantastic elements … I think that covers most of it. That The Count of Monte Cristo is in the book’s genealogy is without doubt.

It all begins with a tussle in a tavern, as Thaddeus Grainger defends the honor of a young working-class woman against someone who sees her as fair game. Thaddeus saves the girl, Cassie Redruth, and earns himself a duel with her aggressor, to her dismay. By the next evening, Thaddeus is nursing his wounds – but his rival is dead, and not from their duel. Thaddeus knows that, and his friends believe it, but the constabulary do not, and he is arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned – he never stood a chance.

And there’s where The Count of Monte Cristo comes in – except that the conspiracy behind the scenes of The Raven’s Seal is much bigger and more impersonal. They don’t care about Thaddeus, or Cassie, or even much about the murdered man. The latter had to be put out of the way, and Thaddeus was a convenient scapegoat. As a larger entity, this shadowy force is harder to discover, harder to get at, and harder to overcome – especially when the troops arrayed against it consist of a young housemaid, a man in prison, an impoverished writer, and an old man. Goliath, meet David.

The description on Goodreads for this specifically states that it is set in late 18th-century England – and that surprises me. I don’t know if I failed to pay attention at the right times, but I had this pegged as being set elsewhere entirely, a setting that looks and sounds and smells like but isn’t quite 17-something England. I think that’s my only real problem with the book, is that the setting – Bellstrom Gaol – is fictional, yet it was supposed to be England. I could have wished for either more of a footing in reality, or a complete disconnect from reality. It isn’t a fantasy, really, at all – but it feels like it ought to be. In fact, it feels a great deal like Ellen Kushner’s fantasies of manners – and that isn’t in any way a bad thing. ( )
  Stewartry | Oct 15, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I enjoyed this book and would recommend to anyone. I will leave a more detailed review shortly. But give this author a try, you won't be disappointed. ( )
  Bridgey | Apr 28, 2013 |
Within the first few pages of The Raven's Seal, my thought was, this author is a fan of Dickens. Turns out, he has a PhD in English Literature with a special emphasis on that illustrious Victorian writer. Don't get me wrong - I love Dickens and I appreciated this homage to him.

Author Baltakmens does a more than admirable job of evoking Dicken's marvelous descriptive prose without turning it into caricature. Much of the story takes place inside a fictional prison, Bellstrom Gaol at the end of the 18th c., a place where money can decide if you live in relative comfort or if you are left chained and half-starved in a dark, dank cell and, thanks to Baltakmen's descriptions, it is very easy to picture the horrors of such a place.

Dicken's influence can also be seen in the characters. We have the poor but pure good girl, Cassie, who will fight to save the hero even though she knows the class system will never allow them to be together. There is the best friend, William Quillby, a writer of course, who will never stop fighting to save his friend. There is the villain who can appear ever genteel while stealing the eyes from blind paupers. And, of course, there is the hero, Thomas, who, no matter the circumstances, will remain heroic and continue to fight the good fight. The story is also often moved forward by unlikely coincidences and murky motives, again not unlike Dickens.

As in Dickens, the mystery itself, which really isn't much of a mystery, is less important than the social commentary and Baltakmens does a surprisingly accurate job of describing the social conditions of Georgian England during the infancy of the Industrial Revolution.

Baltakmens is not the first author I have read who has intentionally tried to reproduce Dicken's style but he is certainly the best. His prose is neither as rich nor as evocative as Dickens and he doesn't show the same sense of humour or irony but perhaps that is not a bad thing. Dickens wrote contemporary literature for Victorians; by writing in his style, without pushing it to its limits, Baltakmens has written a very entertaining and surprisingly accurate historical mystery while avoiding the melodrama and schmaltz, reproducing Dickens can so easily lend itself to. ( )
  lostinalibrary | Dec 21, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A fictional town in Victorian England that hosts a cast of characters, young and old, good and evil, generous and spiteful, that would give Dickens a run for his money. A mystery, at first straightforward, yet twisted with skeins of conspiracy, betrayal and revenge that reminds the reader of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. This is just the first superficial reflection of the marvelous book The Raven's Seal by Andrei Baltakmens. I received this copy through the Advanced Readers Copy program and am completely delighted that I did. The author majored in English literature, focusing on "Dickens and Victorian urban mysteries." This is evident in the language used, the development of characters, the setting, even the weather. We are introduced to Thaddeus Grainger, a young gentleman who finds himself accused of a murder. His friends and acquaintances rally around him and while his life in the notorious Bellstrom Gaol is vividly portrayed, his freedom and restored good name are constantly sought. This is a modern story, written in a Victorian style, but not quite as verbose as Dickens or Collins would be. It is a compelling mystery with characters the reader can't help but feel for, whether for good or bad. I couldn't wait to read the last page, but was sorry when I did, always a positive sign of a good book. ( )
1 vote katylit | Nov 23, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Great example of style winning out of substance. The Raven's Seal had great descriptions of 18th Century England, as well as wonderful scenes in the prisons of the times. But not a very well laid out plot. The actually scheme itself under investigation was pedestrian at best, and the pacing was just terrible. Valiant start, but needs to improve for his next novel. ( )
  erikschreppel | Oct 20, 2012 |
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With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurb, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.

— Italo Calvino, Invisble Cities
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The old Bellstrom Gaol crouched above the fine city of Airenchester like a black spider on a heap of spoils.
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Murder, betrayal,
Corruption; the raven is
Pulling all the strings.

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Set in 18th century England, this mystery tells the story Thaddeus Grainger, sentenced to life in prison for a murder he may not have committed. His friends must decode the meaning of a wax seal and prove his innocence to gain his release from the infamous Bellstrom Gaol prison.… (more)

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