Thank you so much to Bookish First and Zaffre Books for the ARC of Call of the Raven in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.
This is a prequel book to Smith’s Ballantyne series, that introduces Mungo St. John and gives him a bit of an origin story. While I have not yet read anything else by Smith, after reading this I am going to start keeping my eyes out for this other books! I also mention this because while the book is superbly written, I can not distinguish what Smith vs Addison wrote.
Here is the description from Amazon:
The son of a wealthy plantation owner and a doting mother, Mungo St John is accustomed to the wealth and luxuries his privilege has afforded him. That is until he returns from university to discover his family ruined, his inheritance stolen and his childhood sweetheart, Camilla, taken by the conniving Chester Marion. Fuelled by anger, and love, Mungo swears vengeance and devotes his life to saving Camilla – and destroying Chester.
Camilla, trapped in New Orleans, powerless to her position as a kept slave and suffering at the hands of Chester’s brutish behaviour, must learn to do whatever it takes to survive.
As Mungo battles his own fate and misfortune to achieve the revenge that drives him, and regain his power in the world, he must question what it takes for a man to survive when he has nothing, and what he is willing to do in order to get what he wants.
An action-packed and gripping adventure by bestselling author, Wilbur Smith, about one man’s quest for revenge, the brutality of slavery in America and the imbalance between humans that can drive – or defeat – us.
I love historical fiction set in the Civil War and reconstruction era, although this is set a little earlier in the 1840s. The slave trade has been illegal for maybe 30 years and it didn’t quite have the effect on slavery that the American leaders hoped – aka there is still an illegal trade, and breeding for profit became more prominent. This is the setting to which Mungo St. John returns from Cambridge to his father’s Virginia plantation. A corrupt banker has murdered Mungo’s father, seized the plantation and sold the slaves, and is about to visit even more atrocities on Mungo’s lover, Camilla.
“There is only one law on this Earth, the law that gives the strong and wealthy power over the weak and poor”
The book is amazingly action packed as soon as Mungo returns to America. How does he exact revenge on the banker, Chester Marion? Through a complicated and somewhat diabolical scheme that entirely ruins Chester’s life. Nothing seems to quite go Mungo’s way though and we get to see the anti hero develop. Mungo does heroic things like set a whole ship full of slaves free, but then later on becomes a notorious slave trader after his original plan of harvesting ivory comes to a pretty tragic ending. If he had known the entire time that Camilla was alive, I almost wonder if things would have been different?
“I am not cut out to play the hero”
“A man like you can play any role in life he chooses”
Mungo is a walking contradiction, one of those gray characters that I know I should hate, but ended up loving or at least appreciating. He is a hero but also an evil murderous bastard, with a quick temper and also a deeply routed sense of love and commitment. Or just a sense of revenge. Revenge is the preeminent theme throughout the book. Camilla is another interesting character, her choices and actions are interesting as ones that at times required some thought as well. I didn’t care as much for her chapters but she gives us the perception of a domestic slave with liberties once she gets to New Orleans. Without her I would have had a lot less to think about, and honestly because of her, I wanted to be the one torturing Marion at the end. She is one of the single things that gives readers a reason not to hate Mungo.
I know back in whatever grade that I learned about the slave trade, but this book gave me a lot to think about that I either had forgotten or just never thought about. Things like: how exactly are the slaves transported? How are they rounded up to begin with? Why were the African chiefs involved in selling out their own people? How were the slaves fed on the ships? How did the sailors entertain themselves while sailing and dealing with the deplorable conditions? In what ways were the British involved in trying to put down the trade?
A lof of these questions are answered in ways that aren’t for the squeamish, but I mean I am pretty sure that 99% of it actually happened. This is pretty well researched historical fiction and while the answers made me cringe at times, as we said, Mungo is no hero but he does the best he can. One other reason that Mungo constantly made me think was that despite his actions, he really didn’t seem to see much of a difference between skin colors and was constantly able to use this to his tactical advantage when dealing with other white men. I also love reading about piracy and pirates and life onboard ships, and Call of the Raven offers plenty of that as well. Do we mention that Raven is actually the name of Mungo’s own ship that he eventually acquires for the ivory trade?
I loved Tippoo and Wisi as well and even Fairchild, the poor brute. This book really boasts a great cast of characters and as I said, absolutely nonstop action. Mungo VS Marion is going down as one of the best chase and arson and murder scenes I have ever read. I really can’t wait to read the Ballantyne series at some point, it has been added strongly to my list. If nothing else Smith and Addison are flawless story tellers and kept me compelled throughout the novel
I say definitely read it if you are a fan of historical fiction, but not if you have delicate sensibilities and can’t handle a morally gray/black character. There are some parts that are hard to read but I don’t think that ignoring the atrocities of the time period does anyone any favors, and reading Call of the Raven was a great exercise in morality, critical thinking, and would offer a wonderful discussion in characterization if anyone is interested.
“What in God’s name-”
“God has no interest in this”
The book releases in April so preorder it now of it sounds of interest to you!
Disclaimer: all quotes came from an advanced reader’s edition and are subject to change prior to publication. All quotes WILL be checked against a final copy and edited or removed as necessary at that time. Thank you again to Bookish First and Zaffre books, all opinions are my own.