I recently found the time to read Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens, which has been on my reading wish list since before its release. It doesn’t take much convincing for me to read a book about fey, and if you add in gorgeous cover art by the amazing Charlie Bowater, I’m sold. More than any other aspect of the story, I found Rogerson's theme of the value of mortality over immortality as both unique and thought-provoking.
An Enchantment of Ravens follows Isobel, a talented portrait artist who exchanges her Craft for the enchantments of the fair folk. These immortal faeries crave Craft—painting, sewing, cooking, etc.—because if they attempt any form of it, they crumble to dust. When Isobel accidentally paints mortal sorrow into the eyes of Rook, the autumn prince, he whisks her away into the faerie courts to stand trial. While in the courts, Isobel and Rook face the threats of the Wild Hunt, the Alder King, and their own blossoming love, which breaks a major law among the faeries and forces Isobel into a choice between her love of painting and her love for Rook.
The first few pages of Rogerson’s novel struck me with its lovely language and quirky society. Rogerson quickly establishes Isobel’s cautious and resolute personality, and Isobel’s journey to reevaluate these traits is an interesting one. An Enchantment of Ravens has an incredibly unique concept, and Rogerson does a good job of developing the relationships and feelings surrounding Craft. I personally thought the overall pacing fell flat, and lack of development for the antagonist left me less invested in the stakes. However, Rogerson’s themes of mortality vs. immortality struck me and seemed worthy of further discussion.
It’s not unusual for a book about faeries to lead to a protagonist finding a place among the immortal fey, who often live in some form of beautiful splendor, whether it be in palaces half-formed with nature or cities more similar to human reality.
Rogerson flips these tropes completely. Throughout An Enchantment of Ravens, Isobel’s view of the immortality of faeries remains negative, and only grows worse as she sees the ways it corrupts and deteriorates them. Without their glamours, Rook and the other faeries are gaunt and sharp-teethed, and nothing close to the beautiful images they obsessively project to humans and to each other. A particularly visual moment in the story is when Isobel joins the spring court for a feast, only to find that all of their human Craft has rotted behind faerie glamours.
“I wiped off my fingers, but it wasn’t the mold or maggots making my stomach revolt . . . No, it was the knowledge that all around me sat empty people in rotting clothes, nibbling on flyblown trifles while they spoke of nothing of consequence with fixed smiles on their false faces.”--Margaret Rogerson, An Enchantment of Ravens
Rogerson skillfully paints a picture of these empty fair folk, who expend so much energy to present fake images of themselves. Not only can they not create human Craft, but it rots and crumbles around them during their immortality. These images do not glorify immortality, but instead present it as a stagnant, undesirable existence.
Isobel’s humanity and mortality is beautiful in comparison.
“You are like a living rose among wax flowers. We may last forever, but you bloom brighter and smell sweeter, and draw blood with your thorns.”--Margaret Rogerson, An Enchantment of Ravens
Unlike other stories, Isobel’s mortality does not make her weak. Instead, it surrounds her with a sense of life, while the fair folk might as well be walking corpses. Aster’s view of Isobel presents a clear image of Isobel’s beauty and vitality contrasted with the corruption of the fair folk. Although they live forever, it is a less satisfying existence.
“We prefer to pretend otherwise, but truly, we have never been the immortal ones. We may live long enough to see the world change, but we’re never the ones who changed it. When we finally reach the end, we are unloved and alone, and leave nothing behind, not even our names chiseled on a stone slab. And yet—mortals, through their works, their Craft, are remembered forever."--Margaret Rogerson, An Enchantment of Ravens
These themes of mortality vs. immortality eventually connect directly to Craft and the ability of humans to leave aspects of themselves behind to be remembered by. Unlike the fair folk, humans can alter their world forever, even if they live only a fraction of the time fair folk do.
This quote struck me the most, and I believe it remains valid in our real lives, even without the fair folk to compare ourselves to. As much as immortality pops up time and time again in fiction, it is important to remember and value the ways in which mortality can be beautiful, and also the ways in which humans do have a form of immortality—through our creations, our Craft.
“But that was the problem with the old me, I was coming to realize. She’d accepted that behaving correctly meant not being happy, because that was the way the world worked. She hadn’t asked enough—of life, of herself."--Margaret Rogerson, An Enchantment of Ravens
Isobel’s experiences in the faerie courts force her to reevaluate the way she moves through life. These themes of mortality and immortality remind her of the brevity of her life, and she realizes she must go after what she wants in life rather than remain safely in an enchanted house, waiting for life to pass her by. This realization is an important reminder for any of us. Our time is limited, and so we must make the most of the time we do have.
Overall, Rogerson’s beautiful depiction of mortality and condemnation of immortality struck me the most while reading An Enchantment of Ravens. Although the corruption of the fair folk is sad and disconcerting, humanity’s mortality seems meaningful and full of life in comparison. The story did not fully enchant me with its primary plot or antagonist, but it is worth the read for a unique take on the value of mortality.
What are your thoughts? If you have yet to read An Enchantment of Ravens, make sure to check out your local library or bookstore, or find it online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other sellers. Also take a look at Margaret Rogerson’s website for further information.
I write YA fantasy and contemporary fiction. This blog is dedicated to thoughts and advice on writing and publishing, as well as various interests related to the world of Young Adult.