Sometimes, curiosity gets the better of me, and I am inevitably always reminded of what happened to the cat as a result. Sylvain Reynard made his name with his Twilight fan-fiction turned best-selling erotic trilogy, Gabriel’s Inferno, and it’s clear that he and the publishers are banking on post-50 Shades fever to be in full throttle after the film’s release (James is thanked in the acknowledgements and the pair are known to be friends).
This is usually the kind of book I ignore due to my major issues with authors who turn their fan-fiction into supposedly original work, but whether I like it or not, fanworks are set to be a crucial foundation of publishing over the coming months and potentially years. What was once unthinkable is now not only the norm but a tried and tested way of making staggering profits. The true test lies with where these authors go next once they run out of fan-fiction. Christina Lauren, the duo behind the former Twi-fic turned best-selling Beautiful Bastard series, have managed to spin a solid career out of their now original work, so while the world waits to see what James will do next, Reynard offers readers his latest series.
The best word I can think of to describe The Raven is soporific. This a book that drags on every page, one that seems unable to understand the mere concept of plotting and pacing, let alone its execution, all the while borrowing tropes and situations from A Discovery of Witches (coincidentally, Deborah Harkness provided a glowing cover quote for this book), Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and, yes, Twilight. Indeed, this book, the first in a planned series, is a spin-off of the Gabriel series, and the pair from that story appear briefly in this one. This stands as a curious decision on Reynard’s point since his previous series was contemporary while this one is all about vampires. Yes, vampires. I’ll pause for a moment to allow you all to make your jokes about Twilight, fan-fic Inception and the continuing crushing of the irony bell.
The clumsy melding of genres doesn’t stop there. The Raven also tries to shoehorn in historical drama, undead political strategy and melodrama, yet fails to be anything other than crushingly dull. It doesn’t even achieve the status of ineptly executed camp, even though there are points where it’s clearly trying so hard. This book has no identity because it’s so blatantly a patchwork of other books, tired tropes and research that seems to have been copy and pasted from Wikipedia. It’s clear that Reynard did his reading on Renaissance art and the city of Florence but these moments, possibly intended to flesh out the bare bones of the world building, are shoved so carelessly into the story and stand out as especially fake in a book built upon artifice. When a character wants to explain something about, say, the art of Botticelli, they do so in the most perfunctory manner, as if reading from cue cards. I try not to use the word ‘pretentious’ much these days because it’s so overused that it’s lost all meaning, but The Raven fits that description to a tee – all that research ends up reading as condescending because it’s clear Reynard has no idea how to give the reader a little credit to understand such elements.
Then again, Reynard doesn’t seem to trust his characters with their own story either. Raven Wood (take a moment to let the heroine’s name sink in), we are told, is intelligent and compassionate and these are the qualities that make her so alluring to a vampire prince who has lived hundreds of years. In reality, she’s Bella Swan with an art degree. She’s such a non-entity in her own story I’m surprised she didn’t fade from the page. It doesn’t help that she is an overweight and disabled woman who for a big portion of the book finds herself magically healed and skinny. While this doesn’t last for the whole book, the Chekov’s Gun is so clearly set up that any potential development created by this insulting twist immediately disappears. Throw into the mix a ‘tragic’ backstory that’d be upsetting if it weren’t so horridly executed and one wonders if the author has ever met any other human beings, much less read any books outside of Twilight (and Dante – if there’s one thing I remember from that contemptible Gabriel’s Inferno, it’s that Reynard really wants you to know that he’s read Dante).
I was surprised to hear William’s constant criticisms of the character Gabriel because he reads as being his undead double to the point where Edward Cullen would be seeing double. He’s the typical arrogant and tortured beauty we’ve come to expect with Twi-fics turned ‘original’, although looks-wise he sounds more like Carlisle (or Fred from Scooby Doo). The vampires may not sparkle but they definitely have more in common with Meyer than Stoker or Rice (no fangs for one thing). The central romance has no foundations, no reason for the reader to understand why they’d want one another, and the sex scenes are pedestrian at best. The supporting ensemble are barely worth mentioning.
Not even a cliffhanger ending can rouse my interest in the sequel. The Raven is almost astoundingly bad, not just in terms of content but also in execution: Juvenile prose, characters so poorly developed they make the Transformers films seem like Tolstoy in comparison, erratic pacing that can’t help but remind the reader of serialised fan-fiction, high school level googling passed off as world-building and flat out dullness. I’d say I’m stunned as to how such inept first draft work made it to publication but these days I remain unsurprised by anything traditional publishing does.