“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.
Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family—the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”
In The Raven’s Tale, muses are considered dangerous to the soul, yet at the same time, they’re acknowledged to exist. The Sunday sermon exhorts the congregation to “Silence your muses!” lest they lead you into temptation and keep you from pursuing an honest, hardworking, upright life. Such is the world in which we meet young Edgar Allan Poe, a 17-year-old devoted to poetry whose foster father wants to see him settled in the family business as a clerk. It’s all about respectability!
Poor Eddy! He’s consumed by thoughts of a deadly Richmond theater fire from eleven years earlier, and from his obsession with the fire, his muse emerges into life. His attention makes her more and more real, a girl of smoke and ashes who assumes human form and accompanies Edgar through the streets and in his home, leading him to greater and greater devotion to his writing. Edgar’s goal is to escape his awful father and begin his university studies, where he hopes to achieve greatness through his poetry — but the dream is on the verge of slipping away as his financial situation becomes dire and he’s forced into debt and out of control gambling in a futile attempt to pay for his fees.
The idea of personification of muses is an interesting one (and there’s also a secondary muse, who represents Poe’s forays into satire). We see how Edgar becomes consumed by his obsessions with his art, and if we didn’t know that his friends and family are all able to see his muses as well, we might think he’d tumbled into madness.
The concept is unique and inventive. The author weaves together her extensive research into Poe’s youth with her flights of fancy in his interactions with the muse. Sprinkled throughout are both lines from what will become his published work and other rhymes and verses that are written by Cat Winters in the style of Edgar Allan Poe. It’s fun to see the use of his style, and seems credible that his great works could have started in bits and pieces, with all sorts of variations, as they do here.
Overall, I thought The Raven’s Tale mostly (but not totally) successful. It’s an interesting and engaging read, but the reality of the muses was not entirely believable. I’m not sure that the balance between established history and invented fantasy really works well, but as someone not previously familiar with Poe’s early years, I found the parts based on real-life events especially interesting.
The writing takes on all sorts of rhythms and moods that feel true to the Poe of popular imagination, and that makes reading The Raven’s Tale a treat (despite some of the plot bumps).
Whenever I’m not writing, time trudges forward with the maddening, mortifying, miserable, morose, moribund pace of a funeral procession.
Don’t you just love that line?
Title: The Raven’s Tale
Author: Cat Winters
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: April 16, 2019
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Historical fiction