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Jo Graham – The Ravens of Falkenau & Other Stories

September 7, 2011

109. The Ravens of Falkenau and Other Stories by Jo Graham (2011)

Length: 172 pages
Genre: Short Stories, Historical Fiction

Started: 23 August 2011
Finished: 25 August 2011

Where did it come from? Purchased from Crossroads Press.
Why do I have it? Graham’s been one of my favorite authors ever since reading Black Ships.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 14 July 2011.

Short stories about
characters that are reborn
throughout history.

Summary: In Jo Graham’s Numinous World, there are people that are born over and over again throughout history. Their lives intersect in different ways in each incarnation, but they are frequently those touched by gods and angels, and even when they are born into the darkest ages, they strive to make their world and their time a better place.

The Ravens of Falkenau is a collection of short stories about these characters; a collection that spans ages and continents, from Persia to Boston, from ancient Egypt to Napoleonic France, from Arthurian England to the shores of Pompeii.

Review: One of my favorite things about Jo Graham’s Numinous World books (apart from the great writing and compelling stories) is that they are simultaneously interconnected and totally independent; someone interested in Alexander the Great could read Stealing Fire, someone interested in Cleopatra could read Hand of Isis, someone interested in Aeneas could read Black Ships, without ever having to consider the other novels in the series. But, on the other hand, reading all of them makes the experience richer, because there are so many subtle layers of interconnection.

This balance doesn’t quite work as well in The Ravens of Falkenau as it does in Graham’s full-length books, probably due to the structure of the short story. A lot of the of the stories in this collection are very short; more sketches or scenes than complete stories with a proper beginning-middle-end. Much of the impact of these shorter pieces is therefore dependent upon a familiarity with the main character from previous incarnations, rather than being contained within the story itself, which makes them interesting but ultimately unsatisfying, and not so able to stand on their own. There are certainly threads of interconnection even within the book, but they’re not always enough to support the briefer vignettes.

The longer stories, I think, were the strongest. Some of my favorites featured characters (incarnations, rather) that we’d met before – “Horus Indwelling” provided a nice epilogue to Stealing Fire – while others were new times and new situations. I particularly liked “The Messenger’s Tale”, set in pre-Elizabethan England, with its sense of British history mingling with British legend, and connecting with something even older and deeper than that.

In general, even when an individual piece didn’t work as well as I thought it could have, I really appreciated the variety of time periods and characters covered by the stories in this collection. It’s not all that often that you get Egyptian mythology, the eruption of Vesuvius, the French revolution, and the Knights Templar all in one volume, and I enjoyed looking for the interconnecting threads in each new setting. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: While it’s tempting to recommend this as a way for historical fiction fans to get a sense of Jo Graham’s style and feel for history, I think it will probably work better for those who are already familiar with The Numinous World – certainly the author’s notes that head the stories are geared towards people who have already met Gull, Charmian, Dion, Lydias, Ptolemy, etc.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 15: “He also sent three artillery pieces and a company of sappers.” – a soldier employed in the construction of fortifications, trenches, or tunnels that approach or undermine enemy positions.
    .
  • p. 52: “In a quiet corner behind the stall, a young girl was standing with a baby on her shoulder, her wide dark eyes taking in all of the crowd, the horologers returning from the temple outside the gates with their gilded staffs and pleated linens, the busy drovers bringing in cattle from the countryside, the Roman guards on the gates standing at ease in their steel and scarlet, a doctor passing by in her litter with her white hair pinned severely close to her head, schoolboys rushing by yelling in the middle of some game, all the bustle and beauty of the City.” – a person who makes clocks or watches.
    .
  • p. 55: ““You need to read and write to get by in Alexandria, read and write in Koine as well as Hebrew.”” – an amalgam of Greek dialects, chiefly Attic and Ionic, that replaced the Classical Greek dialects in the Hellenistic period and flourished under the Roman Empire.
    .
  • p. 65: “She turned about and was what was attached to it, an apparently infinite stretch of scarlet wool trimmed with gold braid, dolman laced across his chest, a scarlet pelisse thrown over his shoulder trimmed in fur, and above that, a very long way up, a pleasant enough face with olive skin and dark eyes.” – a long outer robe worn by Turks.
    .
  • p. 83: “Her older brothers both had places in the parade, Isidoros with his regiment and Hephaistion with the ephebes of the city.” – a youth of ancient Greece just entering manhood or commencing training for full Athenian citizenship.
    .
  • p. 84: “Hoplites stood about, sarissas in hand, gabbing and eating pockets of dough filled with fruit that an enterprising vendor was carrying about in a tray around her neck.” – a heavily armed foot soldier of ancient Greece; a 4 to 7 meter long spear used in the ancient Greek and Hellenistic warfare.
    .
  • p. 111: “They were little ships, less than half the size of his trireme, fragile looking.” – a galley with three rows or tiers of oars on each side, one above another, used chiefly as a warship.
    .
  • p. 125: “I had wandered her streets then, looking for I knew not what, and in the turn of a corbel, in the shape of a stone had suddenly known her, had embraced her as a man who has traveled the world and come home to find his family in poverty will reach for his mother and lift her from the gutter.” – any bracket, especially one of brick or stone, usually of slight extent.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2011 12:49 pm

    Oh, I really like Jo Graham, too. I had no idea this book existed, though. Thanks for the heads-up!

    • September 8, 2011 10:13 am

      Kailana – It’s pretty new; only been out in paperback for a few months, and from a smaller publisher. But the e-book is only $4, so well-worth it! I hope you enjoy it, and it’s always nice to know there are fellow Jo Graham fans out there!

  2. September 7, 2011 6:13 pm

    I read the first part of this post thinking Jo Graham was Jo Walton. For a while that worked. :p Anyway, I want to read this, and the other Jo Graham books out there. It sounds like they and I would get along famously. Thanks for defining sapper! I feel like I’ve seen that word used in loads of books but have never bothered to look it up. I’ve always just been like, Yeah, sapper, something about war, NEXT.

    • September 8, 2011 10:15 am

      Jenny – I’ll cop to getting them mixed up occasionally too, even though I’ve read works by both of them and they’re really not the same. (I do keep meaning to read more Jo Walton, though.)

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