Ravenhearth is a fantasy set in the fairy tale town from which the book takes its name, and indeed, the novel gives more than a nod toward the fairy tale genre. This is a world covered in a magic, fog-like poison called the ‘miasma’. However, towns and settlements exist in clear patches, created by the magic of the ‘Keeper’ one for each town and its environs.
Every ten years, Ravenhearth’s Keeper sends a messenger to the town who pins a notice on the town’s board requesting a ‘companion’. The position pays a very good wage, and the only stipulation is that the candidate must come to the Keeper of his/her own volition. The town is given two weeks to decide who they send. After this period, a carriage takes the ‘companion’ up to the huge, black Ravenhearth castle that dominates the horizon.
Although, the pay is very tempting, there are a couple of reasons why the notice is viewed with trepidation. Apart from the fact that no one has ever seen the Keeper, no candidate has ever returned to the town at the end of the ten-year period. Additionally, the town fears repercussions should they not send someone, making being selected for the post a gloomy proposition. Enter, Ash the town charity case. An orphan since the age of sixteen, he sleeps in alleys, or the pews and doorway of the church. Generally liked or ignored, Ash dreams about being able to use magic, as his mother was supposedly able to do.
So Ash volunteers to be this decade’s companion. Taken to the astonishing castle he meets the inhabitants, including the rather handsome butler/general factotum, Giles. Ash is given a huge bedroom suite, clothes, comforts beyond his wildest dreams, and a tour around the castle that is now his home. The other residents are a genial cook called Lilah, a magical gardener called Verity, and twin sister and brother, Whitney and Courtney who we are told look after the steampunk clockwork horses.
On his first night, Ash meets The Keeper, a slightly strange but kind and exciting individual, who hides his face beneath a cloak all through their meal together. The meal takes place in the Keeper’s bedroom, and it is obvious that if he wishes, Ash is dessert! The Keeper makes it clear he will in no way force him. Ash indicates he needs time to think, not realising this means he will not see The Keeper again until close to the end of the story. During his time at the castle Ash asks to be taught magic, and enters upon lessons with Giles.
Whilst Lilah, Verity and Giles are all pleasant characters and have clear roles in the castle and the story, Whitney and Courtney are not and do not. They are a strange inclusion, and one that left an unpleasant, possibly very dark, tone in an otherwise straightforward New Adult fantasy romance. They are very jealous of Giles’ time spent with Ash, and show this in strange ways – including the brother and sister waiting in bed, naked, for Ash to return to his bedroom. This seems to suggest they are jealous because they too have a sexual relationship with Giles, yet his behaviour towards them is fatherly, and indeed he punishes them, as would a father. Their behaviour and the reasons behind it are never really explained, but remain disturbing.
Likewise, the genial cook, Lilah, seems to give some very unkind and manipulative advice to Ash near the end of the novel casting a different light on her character too. Whether these inconsistent characterisations are intentional, or not, they didn’t fit with the story, and spoiled parts for me.
Overall, Ravenhearth contains some strong world building and the pacing is good and draws the reader in. I did work out the twist in the story long before innocent and gullible Ash did, but that actually made him seem rather sweet. However, some of the characterisations, unexplained events, and the simplistic, slightly juvenile language impinged too heavily for me to give this novel a higher rating.