I don’t generally read ebooks. However, as I had a long trip ahead of me and did not want to carry a metric ton of reading material (including work stuff) I borrowed an old Kindle from a family member and loaded a few books on it. One of these was Richard Baker’s Prince of Ravens a Forgotten Realms novel that is part of a new series known as Rise of the Underdark. Borrowing a character from a novel Baker wrote as part of the Cities series back in 2000, the narrative follows Jack Ravenwild, professional jackanapes and clever thief, one hundred years after the events of City of Ravens.
Ravenwild is that class of character you might call an “accidental hero.” Not particularly noble or selfless, Ravenwild’s ego somehow leads him to act as if he were. And that’s why we like him. Sure, he ain’t perfect, but who is? After Jack wakes from a magical imprisonment in a mythal stone deep in the Underdark beneath Raven’s Bluff, he quickly falls into the hands of a gang of drow who have nefarious plans for the once drowned mythal. By pluck and guile, Jack manages to escape, towing a fair maiden along behind him (reward for rescuing her firmly in sight) only to find that he wasn’t the only one trapped in that mythal. His archenemy Myrkyssa Jelan has also escaped and is bent on regaining her status as ruler of Raven’s Bluff. Jack is forced, by hook and crook, to escape the snares of Myrkyssa, the drow, and the lovely Seila Norwood, and perhaps save the city of Raven’s Bluff from everyone else’s schemes in the bargain. (After all, this is Jack’s city.)
Baker’s novel is a throwback the Forgotten Realms novels of my youth. Though set in the post-Spellplague years, the focus is less on the catastrophic events and weird changes wrought by the plague and more on telling a story of a character that may remind readers of the Leiber’s the Gray Mouser. Localized but important, significant for the characters but not Realms shattering, Prince of Ravens is as funny as it is adventurous. Jack bounces from events that go from bad to worse, sometimes but not always a step ahead of his enemies. In the game of chess that is the underworld of Raven’s Bluff, Jack always keeps his eye on the king.
Ravenwild has quite a wit, and his cleverness, especially with how he solves his tripartite problem of archenemy, drow magic, and love interest is vastly entertaining and cleverly written. Baker leads the reader to all the clues about how Ravenwild is going to solve all his problems but you won’t see it easily. The moves of this chess game are intriciate without being unwieldy. Baker skillfully crafts a narrative that is both intelligent and entertaining. Hijinks follow hijinks in a logical progression that reminds me of the plotting of a good caper or heist movie.
The text is as smooth as butter, sliding easily across the mind yet also drawing you in with a very personal protagonist who is cocky but human, egotistical but compassionate. Should you choose to read this novel (and you should) you will find in Jack Ravenwild that lovable rogue that, while stereotypical of so many fantasy novels, is such a mainstay in the genre because everybody still loves a little rascal. He may have his own best interests at heart, but Jack Ravenwild is your friend, at least, mostly, when it means he won’t get hurt, captured, or miss a good night’s sleep.
I haven’t enjoyed a Forgotten Realms novel this much since I read the last Erevis Cale story. While Erevis and Jack hold little in common as characters, both are such well-articulated, three-dimensional semi-heroes that I can’t help but enjoy their stories. Prince of Ravens could potentially stand-alone, but is better for having read the first book, City of Ravens (still available on Kindle) but one worth reading for all fans of sword and sorcery, heroic rogues, and caper movies.