This is my first-ever ARC. A marketer reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in reading The Last Raven, and while it didn’t sound like something I would necessarily put on my reading list, I wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity to read a free fantasy novel. It’s possible that I am inordinately pleased to be receiving these sorts of offers; it was never an opportunity I really contemplated for myself. Anyway, consider this my obligatory disclaimer that I did not purchase the book, but I was not compensated for the review, and the opinions expressed here are my own, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
This was a good book, and I am pleased by that – especially for my first solicited review, I would feel guilty rating it too poorly. I have my gripes with it, weaknesses I noticed, characterizations that didn’t quite work for me, but the headline is that this is a good book which I enjoyed more than I expected to enjoy it, considering that I generally struggle to engage with urban fantasies. McHugh integrates several intriguing elements that kept me searching for the clues throughout the story, more about the magic system and the world-building aspects than the mystery of the main plot.
Something I have been dwelling upon recently, and which I mentioned briefly in my author’s note for Dragon’s Hoard, is the portrayal of immortality in fiction. It is never made clear whether or not The Last Raven’s ‘revenants’ are functionally immortal, but we do eventually learn that the protagonist is more than two thousand years old. Hints are dropped of this fact earlier in the story, and I found it jarring and unbelievable – not because I am unprepared to suspend my disbelief while reading a fantasy story involving a parallel world, but because the characterization didn’t align. For someone born before the fall of Rome, he speaks, acts, and most importantly thinks like someone from the late twentieth century.
That’s a shame, because there is enormous potential in his character, and I am therefore hopeful that McHugh will be able to lean into those opportunities in subsequent installments. The Last Raven got a slow start, hindered by a flashback sequence that was somewhat superfluous (the information communicated therein was just as effectively communicated in the main storyline), but once it picked up enough steam, it was nonstop action straight through to the end. Given my fondness for epic pacing, I wouldn’t have minded if the book slowed down in places, but that is a matter of personal taste, and most people would probably consider this a well-executed escalation and maintenance of tension at almost thriller pacing.
The story will feel derivative at the start, especially if you’ve read notable urban fantasy works like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files (of which I read a couple), but it becomes more interesting and unique as the story progresses, especially in the way it incorporates its supernatural elements, which again, become far more interesting and unique as the story progresses after somewhat banal beginnings. There are fewer of the mystery genre overtones that permeate most other urban fantasy I’ve read; this leans more heavily into the fantasy side of the genre, which is part of why I enjoyed it more than I expected, since mysteries are far from my favorite genre.
Is this a magnum opus, a classic that will endure for two thousand years and lay down concepts that will define entire civilizations? No. But that’s not what it’s supposed to be. If you’re looking for a light fantasy novel that doesn’t require a major investment in exposition and world-building and half a million words, The Last Raven might have a place on your reading list.