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Book Review: The Raven and the Dove

The Raven and the Dove by KM Butler is a captivating read that dives in to life in Normandy in the ninth century AD.

Rather than focusing on battles, Butler focuses on the differences between Norse and Frankish cultures, as the Norse under Rollo decide to settle in Normandy and live among the people they have been raiding.

When Frankish landowner Taurin gets to know the Norse shieldmaiden Halla, an interesting clash of cultures occurs.

For two people with such different mindsets, it is not always easy to get along, but Butler conveys characters with such emotion and nuance, the romance of the story feels convincing and true to the times.

I enjoyed the way he shifts between the perspectives of Halla and Taurin, showing their very different, and often opposite, perspectives. It's very interesting to read about the Viking concept of death and the Frankish concept of hygiene, as well as the contrast between Christian women, expected to be meek and unable to choose their own husbands, and Norse women, free to fight beside their men, rise through the ranks and love who they chose.

While the book is mainly focused on settlement, the characters don't settle down for too long. The plot is well paced, never sags, and keeps me wondering what will happen next. Foreshadowing provides a sense of intrigue, such as when Halla wonders at Rollo's intentions before they become clear.

Butler is excellent at conveying expressions and subtle gestures, and through these tiny details, the characters come alive.

For example: " was his deep blue eyes, not his motions, which intrigued Halla. They carried intelligence and curiosity rather than anger. He had a distinguished face--handsome, even--despite the lack of a manly beard, with a defined but not bulbous nose. And the nakedness of his chin revealed firm muscles beneath, not the flapping excess of a life of luxury. She wondered if the rest of his body was equally sculpted."

"Taurin's clarity of mind abandoned him. What thoughts he could muster centred on the strange woman before him. The two deep pools of blue that gazed at him carried a vulnerability and sincerity that dispelled his suspicions."

"He raked his hands thorough his hair, clenching fistfuls of brown locks. Anguish squeezed his heart, thumping the blood through his veins loudly enough to echo in his ears. What had he done?"

Settings come to life with brief but precise descriptions:

"They arrived at Rouen, nestled among gentle hills and wide fields on the northern shore of the Seine, as the evening sun faded on the third day. Orange light reflected off the river and cast the stone walls encircling the city in a fiery glow. Candlelight peeked out from the windows of hundreds of buildings, occasionally blocked by passing figures."

"Home smelled of fish, smoke, and wildflowers, far different from the perfumes and dominating aroma of roasting meat here. His mouth watered even as his stomach threatened to churn at such overpoweringly foreign smells."

You can feel as if you're feasting alongside Norse warriors or charging by their side into battle. I can tell this book is well-researched, yet the history never becomes heavy. Butler takes you beyond the facts and into the feeling of the era.

The Raven and the Dove provides provides a deep and insightful look into a time long ago, with tension, excitement, a dash of humour and a beautifully conveyed love story.

I loved reading this book and give it five stars! Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction or romance.

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