An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson is a young adult fantasy romance novel that is a stand-alone story about a young woman named Isobel who is a portrait artist. She makes a living by painting portraits of fair folk—immortal magical beings who are incapable of expression or feeling emotions and that barter with tricks and magic with humans in exchange for experiencing their crafts. When Isobel gets a chance to do a portrait for a prince who has not been seen in decades, her entire world gets turned upside down due to one fatal flaw during the portrait process: she paints him with a blatant expression of human emotion.
For a debut novel, I can safely say that I have read worse things. It could have used a bit more refining and editing, but aside from that, it was slightly enjoyable for what it was. The first fifty pages introduced to me some marvellous world-building and interesting relationships between humans and the fair folk. Isobel’s talents were established as being the finest in the realm, which highlighted her importance to other artists in the city, as well as why she’s so sought after by fair folks. Unfortunately, it also gives us the foundation for a romance that is built upon insta-love characteristics that ends up leading to the downfall of the story by its end.
The descriptions of the scenery and the settings were excellently lush and picturesque. Whenever the reader is taken into a part of the realm that is ruled by a prince of Summer, for example, we get to read about bright colours of the foliage and leaves and the warmth of the sunlight. There are some power politics that are in play between the royal fair folk people, and because of that certain parts of the realm are decaying and corrupted. These scenes stood out the most to me because of how grotesque and nauseating they were to experience. However, I appreciated it, nonetheless. The stench or the alarming sight of bugs and insect crawling over something that has been lying dead for a long time is so powerful as to be overwhelming, and to able to garner such a response with words is phenomenal. So, I definitely adored the world-building with An Enchantment of Ravens.
An array of colours is utilised in the descriptives, which I believe that artistically inclined readers will appreciate. Since the story is told via Isobel’s perspective and since she is an affluent artist, her views on the scenery and the personalities of the people she meets are usually expressed through shades. It reminded me a little bit of The Astonishing Colour of After by X.R. Pan, but a bit less symbolic and metaphorical. I’ll admit that I had to look up a couple of the shades mentioned because I didn’t recognise them, but I loved how it contributes to the overall aesthetic and tone of the novel.
The romance is where things start to get a bit tricky. The story, or the plot I should say, in a nutshell is about Isobel painting a distinctly human emotion on someone who is in the midst of a power struggle. To be seen displaying such things can be construed as a sign of weakness and being unfit for a royal position (not a spoiler as it’s discussed fairly early on in the story in a natural and straightforward way). Because of this, she’s whisked away to face punishment for her severe crime. The prince and Isobel develop feelings for one another while she’s working on the portrait. It’s shown as honest and mild flirting until they part ways momentarily. Then she’s just very much in love with him and it was very off-putting to me. There wasn’t any real depth or cohesive reason for “love” to have occurred especially because they never really chatted about anything beyond small talk. It’s all superficial based on appearances. I have a very strong distaste for that sort of romance in stories. It’s unrealistic and unhealthy.
After Isobel is knee-deep in the aftermath of the atrocity she committed, her interactions with prince dude take a step backwards from intense emotions of love. Since he’s technically her captor, she is afraid of him to an extent and fears what shall befall her. Yet, those feelings of wanting to do whatever one can for the person one loves never really dissipates with her. She makes some rash decisions when it comes to him, and even the prince makes a few of his own when it comes to Isobel. It’s like the book couldn’t decide it if wanted a slow-burn romance or an insta-love one to fit it’s narrative, so it smashed both of them together. It was frustrating. By the finale, it ended up being super linear and weak overall.
The plot itself is also rather frail. It’s merely fluffed up with switching the focus between Isobel and the prince, and then some of the political upheaval the prince is squished into. Yet, if you strip those things away, there’s really nothing there at all to help keep it afloat or even mildly interesting. Honestly, in hindsight, I would even say that there was no legitimate plot to begin with. There’s usage of a lot of tropes that aren’t moulded to fit the imaginative magics or the fair folk’s way of life. I saw so much potential for taking boring tropes and rejuvenating them in cool ways that when it didn’t happen, I was left with a sad puppy face of dissatisfaction. The progression also dragged here and there throughout, almost like it was left in momentary limbo as it transitioned from one moment or event to the next. Plus the finale battle was nothing more than a total act of convenience—that was also very rushed—and it diminished the villain’s seemingly “grand all-powerful” persona. They ended up not being scary or intimidating at all; such a let-down.
Additionally, I had one very specific irked moment while reading An Enchantment of Ravens. Isobel makes an important decision on the fly in the last one-fourth of the story that she’s hoping shall save her from imminent death, and the reaction or responses to this drastic choice by the fair folk were so unbelievably underwhelming. It was completely out-of-place, and out-of-character, based on how they had been built up to be as a race of people. Nothing that was defined as being badarse, scary-as-shit entities whom not to fuck with actually ended up being as described. Everything was as average as a piece of chalk.
All in all, An Enchantment of Ravens is incredibly middling and unmemorable. I would only really recommend this to people if they are interested in fabulous world-building and settings. Aside from that one quality, every aspect of this tale is severely one-dimensional and as basic as basic gets.