Fate, Destiny, Decisions Made, and Finding Steam – A Review of Ravenor Returned by Dan Abnett

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Most people don’t like being wrong. Part of the dislike towards being wrong is an innate evolutionary reaction, but most of it is culturally-ingrained. But no matter how hard one tries to avoid being wrong, one can be wrong, and far too often, is. It’s simply a part of life.

Sometimes, though, one is happy to be proven wrong – there are plenty of times, I’m sure, when being right would mean something terrible, and in those moments, it’s always a happy thing to know that one has been wrong the whole time.

This happens a lot to me when I’m reading series. There have been times when I’ve started off a series and think it promising, only to be proven wrong – sometimes horrifically so – by the time I read the end of it – and since I always try to finish a series if I like the first book, this can occasionally be a terrible experience if the subsequent books after the first one don’t have any redeeming qualities at all. Case in point: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. I started on it when I first heard of the hype, and though I’d already seen the many negative reviews I thought it was only right that I came to that decision myself. The first book wasn’t altogether that bad: it was juvenile, to be sure, but I thought I came to that conclusion only because I was reading it from the perspective and with the experience of a twenty-something who was already done with her teenage years and was relatively happy to leave them behind. Alas, the succeeding books proved my initial optimistic assumption wrong, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten rid of a set of books quite so quickly as I got rid of my copies of the Twilight Saga.

On the other hand, there have been times when I’ve been happy to be proven wrong about something. When I first heard about Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, for instance, I’d heard some rumblings that they weren’t very good at all, and I was pleased to find that most of the books in the series were, in fact, a lot of fun to read. The negative reviews likely came from people who had some very strict ideas about what could and couldn’t be done with Sherlock Holmes (though how they summoned Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s spirit from beyond the grave to get that authority, I’d like to know).

Most recently, I’ve been proven wrong in my assumptions about a series by Dan Abnett’s Ravenor Returns, the second book in the Ravenor trilogy, set in the massive Warhammer 40,000 shared universe. I’ve just come directly off the first book, Ravenor, which didn’t really leave much of an impression on me, and which I found rather mediocre, especially in comparison with the Eisenhorn trilogy, which was also written by Abnett and which precedes the Ravenor trilogy.

However, Ravenor Returned proves my initial assumptions wrong – and my friend Steven correct. He was right when he told me that I should hang in there despite my misgivings, and I’m glad I did.

Taking place a year after the events of Ravenor, Ravenor Returned sees Ravenor and his crew return to Eustis Majoris after managing to escape – barely – a plot laid for them at Bonner’s Reach. What started out as a simple investigation into the trade of an illegal substance called flects has turned into an outright crisis involving possible corruption at the very highest levels of politics and leadership in the area. In order to better figure out the truth of what’s going on, Ravenor puts his team under Special Condition: meaning that he’s cut himself off from the support of the Inquisition, and can’t reach out to them for help. It does mean, however, that he’s flying completely under the radar – something he plans to use to his advantage.

What he doesn’t know, however, is how many games are already in play, and that Eustis Majoris is a virtual nest of traps and insidious plots – one he and his team are about to set off in the most spectacular – and horrific – way possible.

In my review for Ravenor one of the first things I noted was that Ravenor didn’t seem to have a very strong narrative voice – something I found disappointing, especially since I always appreciate a strong narrative voice if I’m reading anything told from a first-person perspective. I contrasted this with the Eisenhorn books, wherein the main character and narrator, Gregor Eisenhorn, had such a distinctive voice that it was possible to learn a great deal about who he was as a character just from his narration alone. I’d been hoping for that kind of narration when I started the Ravenor trilogy, and when that didn’t happen in Ravenor, I found myself rather disappointed.

As of Ravenor Returned, though, I’ve decided to revise my stand on that matter. While I’m still disappointed that Ravenor’s voice isn’t as distinctive, and probably will never be, as Eisenhorn’s, I’ve come to realize that the Ravenor books are far more about the team than they are about Ravenor himself. Sure, Ravenor’s the glue that holds them all together, and in many ways he’s the brain that guides them all, but I’ve begun to see that the series might be named after him, but it’s not about him – at least, not in the same way the Eisenhorn books were about Eisenhorn, anyway. This means, then, that I should be reading the Ravenor books as being told from the third-person perspective with occasional slides into the first-person. This makes reading Ravenor Returned – and indeed, Ravenor itself – much easier to understand and settle into.

Another issue I had with Ravenor was the plot. I felt it was too small, or a little too short, like it needed some time to grow a bit more so it could be something truly spectacular. While that still stands as a bone I have to pick with Ravenor, the plot is no longer a problem in Ravenor Returned. As if to make up for the smallness of the plot in the last novel, Abnett goes on and layers three plots together in Ravenor Returned – and even better, not only do these plots coexist at the same time, they actually intersect in the novel’s climax. There were also some twists and turns along the way that I certainly didn’t expect coming, and I was very pleased to read them.

This stands in direct contrast to the way that Abnett handled the plot in the Eisenhorn books. The action wasn’t necessarily predictable, but Eisenhorn’s decisions were – mostly because it was so easy to understand how he thought as one read his narration of events, that almost every time he reached a crisis, it was almost easy to predict which choice Eisenhorn would make.

There is none of that in Ravenor Returned. The three plots are woven together in a way that it can be hard to figure out where each one is going, but when they finally connect, it all makes perfect sense. To be fair, there are moments throughout the novel that telegraph that the plots would intersect, but the manner of their intersection is often in doubt – and I find that very enjoyable indeed.

And as for the characters, Abnett does a fine job with them as well. As always, the members of Ravenor’s team are fun to read about, and a handful of them undergo some crucial development that will certainly have an impact on events in the third novel. There are some new characters as well who prove quite interesting: mainly, the character Maud Plyton. She made a brief cameo in Ravenor, but in this novel she really comes into her own, and I like her a lot. I’m optimistic about her chances for survival in the next novel, but being that this is the world of Warhammer 40K, I suppose I shouldn’t get my hopes up too high.

On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the direction Kara Swole’s story has taken. Her relationship with Doctor Belknap (a medicae the team meets during the first third of the novel) is interesting and has some potential, but I wonder whether it serves any greater purpose other than to get Belknap into the team, and to give Kara a little added depth that, really, could have come from somewhere other than a romantic relationship with someone. Either way, I feel that Kara’s storyline could have been handled a bit better – or perhaps there is some purpose to this particular plot line that I’m not seeing yet? Only the third book will tell – and I hope it’s a good explanation.

Overall, Ravenor Returned is much better than Ravenor, mostly because of the larger scale of the plot and the direction certain characters take. It also becomes clear in this novel why Ravenor isn’t really the main narrator of his own series in the same way Eisenhorn was in his, and while I would have liked for that to have been clearer in the first novel, finally seeing the purpose behind it in Ravenor Returned is better than seeing it only in the last book of the trilogy.

At the very least, all indicators show that I can look forward to an explosive, bloody, and likely heart-wrenching conclusion to the trilogy when I get to the last book, Ravenor Rogue. I can already tell one of the major outcomes just from the title alone, but how that happens still remains to be seen – and after this novel, I’m very much looking forward to finding out how it all goes down.

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2 thoughts on “Fate, Destiny, Decisions Made, and Finding Steam – A Review of Ravenor Returned by Dan Abnett

    1. I’m always very happy to be proven wrong in my reading :).

      And yes, the Twilight books went by mercifully quickly – especially since one could skip through entire chunks of it and not miss much. But by the time I was done with them my first thought was: “Kill it with fire!” They were so dreadful.

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