RAVEN'S WIND by Victor Canning


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Love and war in Dane-invaded Britain, 866-878 A.D., as veteran suspense-writer Canning makes one of his occasional, slightly leaden forays into historical romance/adventure. During the reign of King Ethelred, the Danes are busily raiding and raping England--and a young Briton named Justus, sleeping near the shore after making love to sweetheart Riada, is captured by a party of nautical invaders, then carried off to Denmark. Justus is not ill-treated: son-less shipbuilder Noth virtually adopts him, in fact, teaching the gifted lad his craft; Justus will be cheerfully seduced by Noth's headstrong granddaughter; and he'll develop a strangely affectionate blood-feud with Danish warrior Oricson. Nonetheless, Justus never stops hating the raping Danes, never stops dreaming of a return to England--where, unbeknownst to him, Riada has borne his child and has found a kindly, beloved husband in mason Arnulf. So eventually Justus manages to escape from the Danes, reaches England, and joins the service of Ethelred's brother Alfred (soon to be king)--vowing to build great warships for Britain and finding a new mate in buxom Helburga. Meanwhile, though Riada joyfully learns of Justus' return, she remains content with Arnulf. But Arnulf will die while repairing a roof in 872; Helburga will be killed some time later, when the Danish invasion leads to that inevitable blood-feud showdown between Justus and Oricson; and the noble true-lovers will thus be reunited at the close. . . as the Heathen invaders are repulsed from Britain's shores once and for all. A few readers may appreciate the shipbuilding detail here--or the military/historical sidelights. (Lots of brotherly political chats between Ethelred and Alfred.) But Justus and Riada are blandly brave heroes; the action is fitfully episodic; and the small story is thickened with stiff, pseudo-poetic dialogue--some of which verges on Met Brooks parody (""Lie still, marsh woman, and let me play the finger dance on your brown skin"") or near-unintelligibility: ""So, we stay as we are now and take the part pleasures only, contenting ourselves with the less until we can freely move to an adoration of each other's flesh with truth unshadowed.

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1983
Publisher: Morrow