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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
It has been 800 years since we last visited the Rigante, and a great deal has occurred during that time. For those of you not familiar with Gemmell's series, Ravenheart is the third volume in the tale of the Rigante people. And although each novel is a stand-alone story, I highly recommend reading the first two volumes as well: Sword in the Storm and 0345432363. The plotlines are not connected with this tale, but knowing the history of the people that inhabit this world will truly add to your enjoyment.
In Ravenheart, we find the Rigante people to be a subjugated race. The Varlish have long since defeated them in battle and now rule the land. The Rigante's spirit has been broken, and they are trying to eke out an existence with some semblance of dignity. This is where Gemmell shines. He does not miss one sad, oppressive detail. The Rigante are second-class citizens in their own land. Forced to live in near enslavement, they are not allowed to wear their colors or hoist their flag. They are not allowed to learn swordsmanship or ride horses. They are not allowed to own a Varlish business. And on top of that, as we all know, the victor rewrites history. Rigante and Varlish history have been twisted so much that the greatest hero in Rigante history, Connavar, is now believed to have been Varlish! All of these points are so wonderfully illustrated and so necessary to paint a realistic picture of a captured nation. I physically felt the weight of injustice that was bearing down on the Rigante, as they futilely tried to earn decent livings, raise families, and somehow find happiness in the hellish conditions.
Gemmell's skill, however, is not just in drawing this elaborate portrait of a nation, but in creating multi-dimensional characters that power the story. Take, for example, the evolution of Alterith Shaddler, a Varlish schoolteacher. At the beginning of the novel, he is portrayed as a rigid, closed-minded nationalist. His interactions with the young Rigante hero Kaelin Ring shows the sheer stubbornness a person who supposedly knows everything can possess. But he does change, albeit slowly. Deep-rooted Varlish beliefs in education and the law compel him to look more closely at what he is teaching, at what is supposed to be the truth. Though he never wavers from his own cultural pride, he comes to respect the Rigante's heritage and sees shamefulness in his people's current actions. Shaddler's growth is one of the most compelling reasons to read this novel.
The Varlish think the Rigante's spirit is long broken, but they're wrong. The Black Rigante are a northern tribe that holds true to the old customs and ways. Kaelin Ring is the son of a murdered chieftain, and the blood of the Rigante runs true in him. Ring is a classic hero in the tradition of Connavar and Bane. His hatred of the Varlish leads him north to the Black Rigante. There he will begin to fulfill his destiny. (Lisa Echenthal)