Raven’s Banquet, by Clifford Beal

22047247Richard Treadwell is always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because his chosen profession is that of a soldier, his bad luck is sure to be the death of him. Only the fact that Fortuna seems to have more in store for him keeps from being burnt as a witch, hanged, killed in battle, or poisoned. Clifford Beal’s Raven’s Banquet is a prequel to Gideon’s Angel, which tells the story of Treadwell’s service on the wrong side of the English Civil War. Raven’s Banquet tells us what happened to Richard twenty years before he is captured by Parliamentarians.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Naseby in June of 1646, Colonel Richard Treadwell is waiting in custody for his leg to heal when he is unexpected arrested by another band of Parliamentarians. They’re taking him to London for trial. The charge is treason. Treadwell wrote letters to the King of Denmark the behest of King Charles’ advisers. Those letters, asking the Danish monarch to send troops to assist the Royalist cause, are now evidence against Treadwell. As the so-called trial against him proceeds, Beal takes us back twenty years to 1625-1626, when Treadwell served in the Danish army against the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor.

Young Richard chafes at his life as the younger son of a local knight and decides to fight for the Protestant Cause (he uses capital letters) in Germany. Along with a local man pressed into service as dogsbody and manservant, Richard arrives in Hamburg and sets about trying to find the Danish army. He imagines that soldiering is his path to fortune and glory. These notions are swiftly disabused by his new commanding officers. Richard is told to earn his way up to a rank from common trooper. This galls him, but he follows orders.

Nothing is as Richard expected. The soldiers he serves with are coarse and rapacious. They spend more time foraging—meaning stealing any food and fodder that isn’t nailed down to feed the army—than fighting or even gathering intelligence. His cohorts rape and rob and murder. His manservant turns on him. Then Richard finally sees real battle, but it’s a rout. After another disastrous battle, Richard and his remaining comrades find refuge among a colony of strange women in the German forest.

When I read Raven’s Banquet, I didn’t know it was a prequel, so I genuinely feared for Richard. He ends up in so many impossible situations and his world is a violent one. But the book ends with one last, gigantic challenge for Treadwell. And it really could be his last challenge.

One of the problems writers of historical fiction have to solve concerned dialog. Do you use period dialog and risk your novel sounding hackneyed? Or do you modernize it have characters swearing like gangsters with Tourette’s, à la Deadwood? Beal does an incredible job of finding a middle point between authenticity and readability. Raven’s Banquet sounds right. This is a wonderful work of historical fiction.

I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. 

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