CM . . .
. Volume X Number 8. . . . December
Writers of fantasy often muse about the joy of creating a new world, the absorption of placing characters who are struggling to find the fine line between good and evil in a compelling new setting. Raven Quest falls into this kind of excellent, page turning, gripping drama where readers, caught up in the mythology of raven and wolf worlds, find themselves rooting for the main character and heaving a sigh of relief when evil is banished and the hero is successful in his quest.
Tok, a young raven, is banished from his community, falsely accused of killing nestlings. He knows his salvation lies in accomplishing something dramatic for his community, so he sets out to find the Grey Lords of long ago legend, who used to help the ravens hunt. Tok struggles through vicious storms, sickness, the unknown ways of men, and avalanches. However, he is helped by a lowly crow, a softhearted human and an elderly raven that remembers stories of the Grey Lords and their singing. Because he saves the life of a wolf caught in a trap, the wolves trust him and five follow him back to Mount Storm where Tok regains his standing in the raven world.
In fantasy, setting and characters are all. And what vivid, compelling characters there are here! Tok, called Skydancer as he loves to wheel and dive in the sky to honour Skyah, grows from a terrified, ashamed youngster to a wise, compassionate, determined leader. Listening to others, caring for others, holding firm to his search, Tok is the ultimate hero. Another strong character is Alkara, the wise older wolf pack leader whose ability to see the future creates a vision in which her pack finds strength, despite the treachery of Malik, a wolf that disobeys and nearly brings death to them all. Stewart brings even minor characters to life with telling dialogue and action packed scenes. The real life of wolves and ravens is blended effortlessly with her fictional world in which animal groups boast a proud and ancient mythology complete with riddles, proverbs, lore, songs, myths and sayings. The detailed structure and language of each animal group emerges in the story and reflects human characteristics like greed, pride, loyalty, friendship, love and jealousy. Like humans, the animal groups rely on past wisdom and experience but remain open to new ideas if they can be argued successfully. Like humans, they are impressed with valour and loyalty. Like humans, they vote democratically and accept help when they need it. There is no telling here, only the best gradual unfolding of the most delicious story.
The northern forest and mountain wilderness setting of this book is woven tightly with the wolf and raven characters. From its woody ravines to its snowy, slippery dangerous mountain passes, the story draws readers into this strong, Canadian north setting. Even the world of humans (Two-Legs), seen through the animals' eyes, is authentic as the people try to protect their animals from the wolves with rifles and snowmobiles.
Although Tok is on a typical hero's search and although evil - everyday, prosaic evil- threatens to derail the search, the strong themes of the destruction of the environment, man versus the wolf, and the critical necessity of steadfast love and caring are also themes that dominate this excellent novel. All middle school readers (and the adults with them) will be caught up in this amazing fantasy that would make a terrific read aloud. Raven Quest needs to be read by us all.
Joan Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate, Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.