Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Raven Saint; Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Setting: around 1718, Charles Towne, Carolina Colonies. Soon moves to the Atlantic Ocean, Haiti, other islands, and Colombia.

Miss Grace Westcott was a pious young lady who was known for her good works and her most upright comportment.  Many times she put herself in harm's way in order to carry out what she believed was God's work, certain that He would keep her safe because she was serving Him. One stormy afternoon, however, that sense of security was broken when a French mercenary and his henchmen snatched her on the outskirts of town. Suddenly  Grace found herself in a living nightmare, in close proximity with some of the dredges of society, sinners more depraved than she could have ever imagined rubbing elbows with. Where was God in the midst of all this? Why didn't He deliver her from her predicament?

Capitaine Rafe Dubois was a hard-drinking, hard-driving French mercenary, which is often not much better than a pirate. He had to be tough to keep a crew in line, but those who had been with him for a long time knew there was a story behind his behavior. Since God had disappointed him, he chose to ignore God, or at least that was his claim. Yet he was giving the lion's share of his earnings and plunder to a Catholic priest back home in Haiti in order to care for the poor. In fact, he had agreed to kidnap Admiral Westcott's daughter because of the large sum of money the Colombian Don would pay. It never occurred to him that this little lady would turn his world upside-down and cause him so much trouble. 

As with all her books so far, MaryLu Tyndall's writing exquisitely creates the world of her story, bringing to life all the stench and grimy underbelly of life on the ocean as well as the opulence of the Caribbean plantation. The steamy jungle of Colombia is palpable (and not unwelcome on a snowy January evening). Her words involve all five senses to a greater degree than nearly any other books I have ever read.

Until this week, I thought that many of the places were made up, but then I saw a map of Haiti with Port de Paix clearly labeled. Looking closer at the same map, I found Ile de la Tortue close by, and even the Canal de la Tortue that is mentioned in the story. Her research has dug deeply into history, geography, and ships of the period as well. To me, this is significant in a historical novel. Ever since I was young, I liked to delve deeper into the real history behind stories I read, and all too often I have been disappointed with stories that play fast  and loose with facts. From all I have seen so far, Mrs. Tyndall is not guilty of such shortcuts. That adds a great deal to the entire tale in my opinion.

Another trademark of all of her novels has been sound doctrine throughout, and of  course this is true when the title is The Raven Saint. The 'saint' is named Grace, an important element of the story. As with her sisters Faith and Hope, her name holds a certain irony. The verses that came to my mind were Ephesians 2:8,9 (NIV)--"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."  Grace really does her good works as service to God, as her Christian duty, but the love is lacking, as is an understanding of true grace that God extends to all people no matter where they are. This is part of the lesson she has to learn. And she is going to be lambasted by that lesson in many ways before the adventure ends.

But grace isn't the only issue. Hypocrisy, greed, prejudices, slavery, deception, pride, revenge, and immorality are all dealt with as the story unfolds, and the Biblical standards are projected as a natural progression, not as little sermonettes (although Grace, in keeping with her character, does deliver a certain number of sermonettes and dicta along the way. Few of those take root.)  The real fruit of the Holy Spirit is exalted, yet the characters remain real. The work of the Holy Spirit flows throughout without going deux ex machina on us. It might seem a bit far-fetched or unbelievable at times, but, honestly, when we look at the way God has worked in our own lives and the lives of those we know who serve Him closely, doesn't it seemed incredible by 'normal' standards? It all works together in the story, not without some loss, but for the most part quite satisfactorily.

One of the good things about the final book in a series is that sometimes all the little pieces that have been floating free are pulled together at the end. This is one of those books, but don't peek! In fact, if you try reading the last page ahead of time, chances are it won't make sense. This book can stand alone, as can either of the other books in the Charles Towne Belle series, but the ending brings it all into a nice package. So The Raven Saint can stand alone, but it's better not to read it ahead of The Red Siren and The Blue Enchantress.

Do I recommend The Raven Saint? Absolument, oui! er, Absolutely, yes! It's definitely an adult book, but I know older teens will enjoy it just as well. Even guys may like it, with all the gritty seamen and reality involved.

While I received a copy of the book free for review purposes, I am under no agreement to give a positive review. The review above is most heartily and freely written from my own opinions.

To learn more about MaryLu Tyndall and her writings, you can visit her website at and her blog at The Cross and The Cutlass.

The Raven Saint is currently being sold in most Christian bookstores in the U.S. and Canada as well as many other fine book stores. Online it's available through, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Amazon Canada, and Amazon UK. I don't know about other countries.

The Raven Saint by MaryLu Tyndall
Publisher: Barbour Books (January 1, 2010)

320 pages
ISBN-10: 1602601585
ISBN-13: 978-1602601581

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