The Raven (The Florentine #1)
Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Raven Wood is an American working in Italy, at Florence’s Uffizi art gallery restoring Renaissance art. After a party with friends and work colleagues, Raven is walking home alone one night when she sees several thugs humiliating and attacking an old homeless man. When she intervenes, they turn on her viciously.
When Raven wakes it’s a week later and she’s in her bed. She has absolutely no memory of what occurred after she left the party and when she glances at herself in the mirror, her appearance is different. She’s thinner, her hair lustrous and thick. Her disability, a foot that turned outward after a bad break as a child and which she required a cane for, has healed perfectly. When Raven shows up for work she learns that during her absence the Uffizi suffered a terrible theft, a collection of Botticelli sketches. Raven finds herself under suspicion especially when she cannot clarify her whereabouts for the past week nor explain her altered appearance.
Desperate to clear her name, Raven seeks out a name she has heard, one of Florence’s wealthiest men, William York. But she gets more than she bargained for attempting to track down William and when he finally makes an appearance she realises that they’ve crossed paths before….and that William isn’t entirely who or what he pretends to be in polite society. And her relationship with him will draw her deep in Florence’s dark and disturbing underworld where there’s a power struggle brewing.
The Raven is the first in a new series from Sylvain Reynard, author of the Gabriel’s Inferno series. I’ve read those books and quite enjoyed them so I was a little interested to see how these would fare. This verges strongly into paranormal romance territory, but keeps the same heavy references to artwork, etc. In fact the sketches that are stolen from the Uffizi were loaned to the gallery by Gabriel Emerson and his wife Julia, so fans of that couple may appreciate the glimpses we are given here, some of which are rather mysterious. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed the Gabriel books and it’s not because of the paranormal angle. I think the integration of Gabriel and Julia into this world wasn’t necessary and the book at times, focuses a little too much on them, like the author couldn’t let go of their story once it was done.
There’s an unhealthy obsession with Raven’s appearance in this book. At the beginning of the story, she’s (in her opinion) overweight. She also has a disability and requires a cane to walk. She can’t run, even walking fast is out of her reach. After she is attacked, she wakes up beautifully thin with perfect breasts, luminous skin and no disability. She’s thrilled when a neighbour’s grandson, whom she has a crush on, finally notices her and asks her out. Even though she knows it’s only because he didn’t see her before when she was bigger and less attractive she still goes out with him. However the perfect appearance doesn’t last…she begins to revert back to her former self over time and when she shows up for their date, she’s changed already and she can tell in his expression that he’s disappointed, perhaps wondering what he saw when he asked her out when whatever it was, isn’t in front of him now. It goes on and on throughout the book, how unattractive she found herself before, how much she adored her transformation and then how disappointed she was when it began to wear off. William York, the mysterious wealthy man Raven seeks out for answers about the art gallery theft who is not what he seems (oh heck, I’m just going say it, he’s a vampyre, ok?) loves her original body which he puts down to being hundreds of years old when being thin meant being sick. He loves a curvy woman and tells her. A lot. Whilst I appreciate the fact that he prefers Raven as her natural self, not her enhanced self, this took up far too much of the book.
There were a few implausible things here….such as Raven going missing for a week and keeping her job. Also everyone seemed to cope remarkably well that she lost however much weight (I’m assuming a significant amount, at least a couple of clothing sizes) and her disability vanished as well as her attractiveness increased and then it all reversed in a frighteningly quick amount of time. The fact that Raven’s blood smells sweet to every vampyre in the vicinity does compare with another book whose name I shall not mention here, but it’s not the only comparison I could make. William stalks Raven, supposedly because he is the only one that can ‘keep her safe’ but he alternatively bullies and attempts to cajole her into sleeping with him, or becoming his….pet? concubine? consort? I don’t even know. It’s only when Raven is willing to comply with his wishes if William will use his considerable powers to fix someone injured that she shames him into realising how wrong his behaviour is. But only a little bit.
William is basically Prince of Florence’s underworld – he’s very old and he’s very powerful but he still loses his head over Raven and begins acting very out of character. Once again, it’s a struggle to express precisely why Raven captivates him so, other than she smells sweet and she would’ve sacrificed herself for someone else, not once but twice. He doesn’t listen to her though, she expressly asks him not to do something, says she isn’t interested in it but he sets the wheels in motion anyway, leading to, I imagine, a big and important conflict for them as a couple in a later book. I think my biggest problem is I can’t really see where this is going, as a series. William isn’t really charismatic or interesting enough to impress me and Raven has to let go of her hang ups if she’s going to be a truly strong heroine and a decent match for anyone, let alone a vampyre prince. So far the first book is just enough to be interesting but not quite enough to be fascinating.
Book #33 of 2015
*note: I’m using the spelling of “vampyre” because the book does.