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A Land Beyond Ravens by Kathleen Cunningham…
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In Britain's Dark Ages, Marcus ap Iorwerth is a master spy and swordmaster who manipulates kings, warlords and the church to keep his family and his people safe as well as saving Britain as a whole.

Claerwen, Marcus's wife, has the sight and what she sees haunts her every day as she tries to decipher the dreams before it's too late.

This is the fourth book in the Macsen's Treasure series and my first book from Kathleen Cunningham Guler. Though it is true I was able to pick up the book and get the gist of Marcus ap Iorwerth and Claerwen's story, I think I would have preferred to read the series from the beginning. This would have allowed me to get to know the characters much better and truly understand what they were going through.

With that being said, I found this to be a thoroughly researched and intriguing book about the rise of King Arthur told by the people around him. The pronunciation guide/glossary at the beginning was also very helpful for the many Welsh names and phrases.

Thank you to Kathleen Cunningham Guler, Review Direct and Bardsong Press for giving me the opportunity to review this book. ( )
  theeclecticreview | Jul 29, 2011 |
From the blurb about this book, I thought this would focus on Arthur - it doesn't. Mentioning Arthur in this context is much like a big-named guest star on a flagging tv show being hyped to the point of ridiculousness. So my expectations weren't met. The story seems to bog down simply because no action can occur in the winter months. Perhaps if I had read the other books in this series, I would have enjoyed this book. It does appear that the author researched this time period well and writes about it as accurately as possible. Overall, this book just wasn't for me. ( )
  MelindaLibrary | Apr 12, 2011 |
This book was neither here nor there for me. It took me a while to get into the story; the first 150 pages or so seemed to really drag on. But once I got a feel for the author’s writing style, the characters’ personalities and their back stories, I started enjoying it more than I had in the beginning and started looking forward to learning what twist Guler next had in store.

I certainly learned a lot reading this book. My field of historical fiction “expertise” lies with more modern history—I’ve read a myriad of novels set between the 15th-19th centuries—so it was refreshing to read an historical novel so deeply steeped in earlier historic myth and legend. The book takes place in the 5th century AD, just as Roman Christianity is beginning to truly take hold over Britain, and while many still practice Celtic Paganism and Druidism. Such is the religion of the book’s protagonists, Marcus ap Iorwerth, spymaster, and his doting wife Claerwen, who is afflicted with premonitions, or “fire in the head”. The two are charged with a dangerous secret: the fact that the high king Uther Pendragon has a living son, Arthur, who was prophesied by Merlin the Enchanter to one day rule over a kingdom of greatness. Until the road to kingship can be made clear for Arthur’s safe ascension, Marcus must carefully navigate the treacherous path of war, political ambiguities, and constantly changing loyalties, all while under the vengeful eye of Uther, who is dying and grows more suspicious of Marcus every day, although Marcus has proved himself to be nothing but Uther’s faithful servant for years.

I’ve read that A Land Beyond Ravens is one of the most historically accurate of all the novels set in Arthurian Britain, and though I don’t have much knowledge of this historical period to verify or refute this claim, I can appreciate the author’s obvious passion for Celtic and Welsh historic culture, as evident by her bits of insight into the religious mysticism and her incorporation of many Welsh wording and terminology. I also like that the author included an Author’s Note at the end, separating the fact from the fiction of the book. The mystical elements of this novel did not bother me, as there wasn’t rampant spell casting taking place throughout the book or anything, and the author only mentioned magic as it related to a character’s religious beliefs. For example, Claerwen’s fire in the head was something that many historic 5th century Celtic pagans truly believed they actually possessed, that it was a message from the gods. The religious facet of the book was actually the most interesting aspect of the story. My favorite scene in the book took place between Marcus and a Christian priest, who are debating religion and its usage by the government to manipulate the masses. The conversation inadvertently gives the reader a brief history of religion throughout the Dark Ages, which I found very entertaining, especially as being discussed between two such opposing points of view.

Something that bothered me throughout the entire book was the author’s constant use of questions, either mixed into the characters’ thought process or directly from the narrative point of view. Example: “With little time to aid the Decangli, he had thought it worthwhile to try to pound some decent reasoning into Cadwallon. Now he needed to find another way. But doing what? And where?” I understand that the author was using this technique to try and build up anticipation and suspense, but I found it overdone, to the point where it became, frankly, annoying. Some people may like this style of eliciting suspense, but for me, it was distracting, and I found myself mentally counting the number of questions crammed into each page. Also, there were some elements of the book that just seemed pointless and forced. Certain characters seemed to be there just to pass the time, creating a sense of unnatural drama. For those who have read this book or plan on reading this book, I am referring particularly the character Drysi. I don’t think her inclusion in the story was at all necessary; but Guler clearly wanted someone to play the snooping, catty female archetype whose presence was a constant thorn in Claerwen’s side.

I found the end of this book to be very much anti-climactic. With all the build up that preceded it, I was expecting fireworks! Each time I thought the story was picking up, I felt let down by a predictably mellow result. I know there are many people who thoroughly enjoyed this award-winning series, but A Land Beyond Ravens, while well-written and informative, was simply not my favorite cup of tea.

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by a publicist for review. ( )
1 vote HistFicChick | May 23, 2010 |
The fourth installment of the Mascan’s Treasure series, Ravens is less the action/adventure novel of the first three and more mystery and reworking of legend. The Arthur legend is more present in this novel – I’m a sucker for it so this pulled me in. The middle got a bit slow but still not a slog. I generally enjoyed the series and thought it improved with each volume which is not easy to do or the typical direction of most series novels.

Note: I received this through LibraryThing Member Giveaways. ( )
  janemarieprice | Apr 27, 2010 |
FTC Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the author - who has kindly also agreed to write a guest post that will go up later today. Lucky, aren't I?

Marcus ap Iowerth has acted as spy to Uther Pendragon for the past few decades, but his increasingly erratic master is convinced that Marcus is plotting against him (with his hateful neighbor Cadwallon, no less) and insists that Marcus remain cooped up at home rather than participating in the battles and power struggles of the time. For Marcus, who has always been a man of action, it couldn't be harder to sit and watch the fate of the land he loves be decided without him. In addition, Marcus' wife Claerwen is increasingly plagued by portentous visions shown by the 'fire in her head' of the last piece of Macsen's Treasure - the Grail. But Marcus and Claeri aren't the only ones to seek the grail - it is deemed more and more important as the power of the Christian church grows in the British Isles.

I haven't yet read the other three books in Kathleen Cunningham Guler's Macsen's Treasure series, but I found A Land Beyond Ravens to stand reasonably well alone. Important events from earlier books in the series were briefly explained in context, so I never felt lost as to what was going on, though it was clear that I was missing some of the emotional import behind, for example, the Iron Hawk. These teasers - as it was very clear that they were of deep significance for the characters - just made me want to seek out the rest of the series to experience Marcus' and Claerwen's adventures from the beginning. So well done, Kathleen!

A Land Beyond Ravens was an absorbing story of the tumultuous period after the Romans had left and when the Christian factions were gaining power in Britain. There are power struggles amongst the chieftains, fractured loyalties, betrayals, and a growing movement around the hidden boy Arthur. But where the novel really shines is in giving us a lovely emotional story of a family caught up in the politics. Marcus' frustration at his inaction and his pain at being betrayed by the man he has been loyal to at great cost to himself really make the politics important on a more personal level. The struggle between the old ways and up-and-coming Christianity are mirrored in the difficulties between Claerwen and her sister, Drysi.

And charming as Marcus undoubtedly is, it's Claerwen who was the most interesting character for me. Despite her physical weakness from her weak heart, she is, in her own way, stronger than Marcus. She puzzles through her visions, sorts through problems that stretch far beyond the domestic (or even local) sphere, and she has infinite patience (it seems) for her difficult husband's need to bottle up his emotions. And throughout all of this, she never comes across as a martyr or a goody-two-shoes.

If there was anything that disturbed me about Claerwen, it was her reaction to her sister. I understand that her reaction was often set off by the other's prickliness and because Drysi reminded Claerwen of their manipulative mother. And on many occasions Drysi was certainly completely insufferable - refusing to follow the old ways or even respect them when she was in Dinas Beris, accusing Marcus of a terrible crime. But what struck me is that no one tried at all to comfort her, to understand the depths of pain and horror that she was carrying around after the ordeal she experienced at 12 years old - and, it is implied by her son Glinyeu, once again barely a year ago - which isn't even mentioned again. I was disappointed that Claerwen and the rest of the village didn't try harder to reach her once it was clear what she had been through. Instead everyone bands against her to protect Marcus (understandable) which made my heart ache for the thorny Drysi.

A Land Beyond Ravens mostly wasn't an 'action' sort of book. There were some scenes surrounding battles, but the fact that Marcus may not leave Dinas Beris without risking severe consequences means that much of the drama surrounds the relationships between characters - and I found the balance suited me well. I enjoyed my foray into the Macsen's Treasure series, and I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the others in the series so I can meet Marcus and Claerwen again!

Also posted at A Hoyden's Look at Literature. ( )
1 vote Caramellunacy | Apr 17, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0966037162, Hardcover)

No one in fifth century Britain knows more secrets than master spy Marcus ap Iorwerth, and that makes him a dangerous man. It also makes him a hunted one. For nearly three decades he has manipulated stubborn, irascible kings and warlords in a quest to not only unite them against foreign invasion but to stop them from destroying each other as well. And along with his beloved wife Claerwen, he has followed a greater, even more perilous pursuit to forge a clear path for the fulfillment of Merlin the Enchanter s famed prophecy that one day a great king will take command, the king known as Arthur of the Britons.
Now, with Arthur at last on the brink of adulthood and already showing great promise as a leader, Marcus discovers that the emerging Christian church is gaining enough power to dangerously shift control of Britain. At the same time Claerwen, gifted with second sight, is plagued with strange dreams that connect inexplicable doom to both Arthur and a long lost grail sacred to Britain s high kings. As foreboding mounts, Marcus struggles to prevent the church from crushing Arthur s chances of becoming an effective king. But how he goes about it sets up the very doom that Claerwen sees. Will she be able to stop him? Or will her visions send Marcus to his own doom as well?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:01 -0400)

"No one in fifth century Britain knows more secrets than master spy Marcus ap Iorwerth, and that makes him a dangerous man. It also makes him a hunted one. For nearly three decades he has manipulated stubborn, irascible kings and warlords in a quest to not only unite them against foreign invasion but to stop them from destroying each other as well. And along with his beloved wife Claerwen, he has followed a greater, even more perilous pursuit--to forge a clear path for the fulfillment of Merlin the Enchanter's famed prophecy that one day a great king will take command, the king known as Arthur of the Britons. Now, with Arthur at last on the brink of adulthood and already showing great promise as a leader, Marcus discovers that the emerging Christian church is gaining enough power to dangerously shift control of Britain. At the same time Claerwen, gifted with second sight, is plagued with strange dreams that connect inexplicable doom to both Arthur and a long lost grail sacred to Britain's high kings. As foreboding mounts, Marcus struggles to prevent the church from crushing Arthur's chances of becoming an effective king. But how he goes about it sets up the very doom that Claerwen sees. Will she be able to stop him? Or will her visions send Marcus to his own doom as well? A Land Beyond Ravens is a tale filled with haunting memories, honor, courage, and dreams lost and won. Interweaving the history of Dark Age Britain with its mystical Celtic roots and Arthurian legend, it is the compelling final chapter of the multi-award winning Macsen's Treasure Series that includes Into the Path of Gods, In the Shadow of Dragons and The Anvil Stone. Winner of the 2010 Colorado Book Award for Historical Fiction"--From author.… (more)

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