by Sarah Pennington
Isobel, heroine of Margaret Rogerson’s debut novel “An Enchantment of Ravens,” is the finest portrait artist in all of Whimsy, the land between the mundane World Beyond and the forests where the fair folk—or faeries—dwell. For years, she has navigated through one bargain after another with these faeries, trading her art for enchantments, for the fair folk desire human Craft, since they themselves cannot any. But when Rook, the autumn prince, seeks her out for a portrait, Isobel finally missteps. She is torn away from her home and family to face judgment for a mistake that nearly cost Rook his life. Thrown off course by monsters, Isobel and Rook must survive the treacherous faerie courts, the dreaded Alder King, and the blossoming love that might just be their doom.
The chief attraction of “An Enchantment of Ravens” is its subtle critique of a growing trend in modern literature. Faeries have fascinated readers for centuries. Yet, in recent years, this fascination has turned to obsession with the glamour and immortality of faeries and immortals, reflecting society’s pursuit of undying youth, beauty and pleasure. In one novel after another, fair folk and similar beings have become an ideal of impossible power and animalistic passion contained in unspeakable beauty and ageless nobility.
“An Enchantment of Ravens” takes a hard look at this trend and comes to several conclusions that Christian readers will largely agree with. The dangers of obsession with the fair folk are evident from the very first chapters, as Isobel reflects on how easily the enchantments gifted by the faeries can turn sour. The people of Whimsy unwittingly trade away the ability to communicate, or even their very lives, for wealth and beauty. Yet they still chase enchantment and dream of becoming fair folk themselves by drinking at the Green Well.
It’s not until much later in the book that readers discover the true emptiness of the faerie courts. Though they surround themselves with beauty and luxury, their glamour, as often as not, hides rags and rot. Though ruled by passion, they have no true feeling. The idea of love is nothing more than a joke to them. Though they are immortal, they can die, and no one will remember them when they do. And though they are powerful, they cannot create. There, Rogerson tells her readers, lies the greatest advantage of humanity. It is the ability to make art—portraits, stories, food and clothing—that makes all the difference, and allows Isobel to overcome danger.
In addition to its excellent theme, “An Enchantment of Ravens” is an enjoyable and exciting story. The intrigue of the faerie courts and the ever-present dangers of Isobel and Rook’s journey will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the last page. The characters— sensible Isobel, dramatic Rook, and the rest—are thoroughly engaging and refreshingly non-angsty. The romance between Isobel and Rook is also astonishingly well-done, built not on momentary passion but on a trust and love that slowly grows over the course of the book.
The only flaw is one scene in which characters came within inches of improper intimacy before coming to their senses. As it’s barely referenced in the rest of the book, readers can skip the scene (on pages 123-28) without missing anything important.
Overall, “An Enchantment of Ravens” is both an excellent critique of a major trend in modern speculative fiction and an engaging story in its own right. Rogerson has not announced any plans for a sequel, but readers will certainly be able to enjoy this novel again and again.
Sarah Pennington is a sophomore Professional Writing and Information Design major and an Arts and Entertainment reporter for Cedars. She loves chai tea and dragons and is perpetually either reading or writing a book.