Over the coming days, Gentle Readers, I’m going to be told by quite a few people what my book is really about. I’ll be informed — sometimes gently, sometimes not — that how I structured the plot and drew the characters marginalized this group or that; I’ll be chastised for language, for names, for word choices. And I’ll be told how I can rectify my shortcomings in order to be a better, more sensitive writer in the future. I thought I’d get ahead of the game by offering a Readers Guide to A Gathering of Ravens*. The contents herein should prepare you for the experience of reading the book once it’s released.
First, Trigger Warnings: if its not evident from the jacket blurb, the protagonist of A Gathering of Ravens is not human; he is a monster, specifically an Orc in the mold of Tolkien’s Orcs. As such, he tends to be profane, misogynistic, and prone to calling human women by the worst possible names: whore, slut, bitch. He does not engage in sexual intercourse with any of the female characters, but at one point he does threaten rape. He’s also dismissive of Christianity. And he likes to kill things. Lots of things. I consider it “rated R” for violence, language, and the general dickish behavior of the protagonist.
Second, it should be noted that this is a work of fantasy. And while it borrows heavily from Norse, Irish, and Anglo-Saxon history and myth, it is itself in no way historical. It might seem so only because I am, by predilection, an amateur historian. It is heavily cannibalized, with bits and bobs arranged and rearranged, repurposed, repackaged, and presented as something new. Take the name skraelingr, for instance. Yes, I am fully aware of its history as a term used by Norse explorers to describe Inuits and Native Americans; I’m also aware of its etymology, both in Old Norse and Icelandic. In the latter it means “foreigner”, and that’s part of the reasoning behind my use of it as a Danish and Norse descriptor for Grimnir’s people. In the world of A Gathering of Ravens, when the Norse first encounter the tribes of Vinland, they remind them of an ancient and ancestral enemy.
Third, Themes: the overarching theme of A Gathering of Ravens is how the Old World, the world of magic and gods and monsters, is fading before the onslaught of the New World, the world of one god that rejects magic as the workings of evil. Its secondary theme is the power of oaths in ancient societies. The book does not engage in any sort of modern gender or sexuality explorations. A woman does impersonate a man early in the story, but that is to travel relatively safely through rough lands rather than any sort of identity statement (and the protagonist discovers the ruse quickly through his heightened sense of smell).
And finally, it is a very straightforward revenge story. One might even call it simple. This is not a design flaw, but an homage to the type of story I enjoyed reading as a youth. Nor does Grimnir, the protagonist, change much from beginning to end. He is not meant to change. He is eternally a squalling knot of prejudice and hate. But, he serves as a catalyst for Étaín, his Christian captive, to change. And she does.
To recap: A Gathering of Ravens is the story of a dickish fucking Orc who snags himself a Christian captive and drags her from Denmark to England and then to Ireland, for the express purpose of killing the son-of-a-bitch who murdered his brother. Along the way, he engages in some of the foulest hate-speech toward her you’re liable to hear, while simultaneously protecting Étaín from some wretched bastards who are even worse than he is. Sprinkle this with vast amounts of gore, severed limbs, some gnarly dialogue, a metric ass load of expletives, and the occasional speech about the evils of either Christianity or Paganism.
Read at your own risk.
*A Note on the Title: A Gathering of Ravens is not “Wow, that Oden guy fucked up! A plurality of ravens is an unkindness! What a dumbass!” It’s an homage to the opening line of Robert E. Howard’s Irish tale, Spears of Clontarf: “War is in the wind — ravens are gathering!”