Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet

Led by troubling visions of a shadowy Keeper who is probably benevolent and hoping to find Auralia and her colors, Cal-raven, king of Abascar, leads his homeless people out of exile and into a danger of another sort–seductive House Bel Amica, where brews a danger of a greater kind, related to the tentacles that sprang from the ground and destroyed House Abascar.

Raven’s Ladder is the third intallment in Jeffrey Overstreet‘s Auralia thread, began in Auralia’s Colors and continued in Cyndere’s Midnight. The basic gist is that King Cal-raven of Abascar, through the colors woven by the mystical (and missing) girl Auralia, and heiress Cyndere of Bel Amica, through the noble ambitions of her dead husband Deuneroi, have been given a vision of a different world, one that involves liberating the beastmen of House Cent Regus, under a deadly curse. The Keeper figures into things somehow, but it’s not God. It might not even be good, but it gave King Cal-raven a vision of a ladder to climb to bring his house to freedom.

In Raven’s Ladder, Overstreet has really hit his storytelling stride. I loved the first two books but found them both to foreground poetry over plot in some key places, making it hard to follow the story at times. Here, he’s sublimated his poetic impulses into the plot itself, and as a result I was able to fill in some gaps that eluded me in the first two books. That’s not to say that he’s a writer who gives up easy answers–not at all. There’s a lot of fearsome mystery to be found in these books, unanswered questions and stories as yet untold. But it seems he’s found the fine line between mystery and opacity without sacrificing the beautiful prose that has captivated from page 1 of book 1.

I continue to be happily impressed with the originality of Overstreet’s story. It has the genre trappings of epic fantasy (my favorite) but eschews the worn-out hero’s journey bildungsroman that has become so trite. King Cal-raven is a noble visionary, but he’s not above making questionable moral choices (like pitching the woo at a married woman), and he’s not a chosen one or anything dumb like that. All the political intrigue is subtle and fascinating and really comes into its own in this book. I can’t wait to read the last book and find out how it all comes out!

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