Raven’s Ladder is Jeffrey Overstreet’s third installment in The Auralia Thread, a Christian fantasy series that started with Auralia’s Colors and continued with Cyndere’s Midnight. Raven’s Ladder brings us back to familiar characters like King Cal-raven and his fabled mother, Jaralaine, while featuring a supporting cast of characters introduced in Cyndere’s Midnight, including Cyndere, Jordam, Ryllion, and Emerienne. In Raven’s Ladder, House Abascar is still in shambles and as Cal-raven struggles to find a new home for the survivors, he must also face the Bel Amican Seers’ evil scheming, a vicious new underground enemy, and his own wobbling faith in the Keeper.
The best book in the series so far
Raven’s Ladder is a vast improvement over Cyndere’s Midnight and even surpasses Auralia’s Colors. Overstreet has really come into his own: his writing is confident and the characters are completely believable. Cal-raven has always been my favourite character, and it was a real pleasure to read about his all-too-human flaws: arrogance, lack of faith, and impulsiveness, among others. In the previous two novels, the characters were fairly black-and-white compared to most of today’s epic fantasies; in Raven’s Ladder, however, the characters become much more complex and find themselves struggling not only against distinct enemies, but also against their own flawed natures.
In many ways, the chapters can be read as character studies; sometimes the most action happens in the characters’ own heads, rather than at the end of a sword. Compared to the wooden characterizations in Cyndere’s Midnight and even Auralia’s Colors, the characters of Raven’s Ladder are entirely and wonderfully human.
Grittier and deadlier
Although each book in The Auralia Thread has featured some violence, in the first two books the violence felt somewhat removed and unreal; it always happened to unimportant secondary characters and was always perpetrated by the bad guys. In Raven’s Ladder, the violence is real and bloody and grim, and in one of the most poignant scenes of the novel, it’s committed by someone whom we all know as one of the good guys (although, to be fair, Overstreet still shirks giving this character full responsibility of the consequences of his or her actions). An important character dies and another character faces despair because of it. Raven’s Ladder feels more mature and intelligent than its predecessors, and Overstreet’s world now feels less like an abstract fairy-tale and more like something recognizably inspired by real life, as fantastic as the window dressings are.
The violence is such that I’d no longer recommend this series for young people. Despite the moralistic undertones, this is a story for adults, not children.
More heavy-handed religion
Depending on your tastes, this may or may not be a bad thing, but the fact is that Raven’s Ladder once again ratchets up the religious factor in The Auralia Thread. There are very obvious parallels to Christian beliefs, and these parallels are about as subtle as the ones in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (which is to say, not very subtle). Overstreet rarely descends into preaching, but the blatant Christian allegory that lies under the fantasy plot will definitely irk those less religiously-inclined.
One flaw that does exist, regardless of your religious beliefs, is that Cal-raven’s crisis of faith isn’t very believable. Although otherwise an excellent character, Cal-raven’s spiritual doubt lacks conviction, and the pages where Cal-raven weighs non-believer arguments against his faith are purely excruciating. Cal-raven’s spiritual doubt feels like a convenient way for Overstreet to write a little more about his Christian message, instead of like a genuine character development.
Why should you read this book?
If you’ve enjoyed The Auralia Thread so far, you’re bound to be impressed and blown away by Raven’s Ladder. It exceeds its predecessors in every way. However, the religious message only gets stronger as the series continues, and if you are at all wary of mixing your fiction with religion, you are better off spending your time elsewhere.