“The Call of the Raven” by Wilbur Smith was written as a prequel to his popular Ballantyne series. I came to this book without having read any of the previously written ones, and from that perspective, I loved this story. I will be seeking out the rest of the series to learn what happens next.
Mungo St. John is an incredibly compelling character, and I was invested in learning more about who he was from the opening scene. My understanding is that he is widely considered to be complex and controversial, and after reading this book, I understand why. Mungo grew up in a privileged family in the American South, went off to school in England, and returned home to find that things had changed dramatically in his absence. How Mungo handles this turn of events provides remarkable insight into the man he has become by the start of book 1 of the series (“A Falcon Flies”).
Secondary characters like Camilla, Isabel, Tippoo, Fairchild, and Chester Marion have their own unique personalities and moral codes. Each brings something special to the storyline, and whether you love them or love to hate them, the book is made better by the inclusion of each.
Please don’t be lulled into thinking that “The Call of the Raven” is merely a character study; there is action aplenty! Mungo’s adventures on land and sea, in America, Africa, and England, offer everything the fan of action stories could possibly ask for.
While you can enjoy this book merely for the great characters and storyline, you can also dig deeper. There is plenty here to encourage the reader to consider his own definition of morality, and how that definition should (or shouldn’t) be fluid based on circumstances. Ask yourself what you would do in Mungo’s shoes at various points in the story, and try to be honest with your answers….you might learn something valuable!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the exquisite degree of historical detail Mr. Smith weaves into his narrative. He obviously has extensive knowledge about this period of history, and everything from the clothing and ships to the speech patterns and societal norms rings true. Nothing about this book reads like a history tome, but by the time you’ve finished devouring the story, you WILL have learned some things.
“The Call of the Raven” is definitely one of the most exciting and intriguing books I’ve read in awhile.
Five out of five slices of perfect provolone!