Review of The Raven’s Seal by Andrei Baltakmens

book cover image The Raven's SealBaltakmens has created an imaginary, Dickensian city with a dark prison looming on a hill at the top of this grim, fairy tale-like world. He sets his allegorical novel in this intensely constructed realm, more compact and symbolic than any real setting could be. Evil and corruption thrive. The bored gentleman we meet at the beginning is no match for the serpentine contrivances hidden away in shadow and actively arrayed against him. The code of honor of the 18th century upper classes comes under scrutiny and is found wanting when the “gentlemen” choose conventionality and financial gain over true inner worth—a good Dickensian theme. There is a suitably unconventional love story and a solid development of the central character’s growth as he figures out how to survive in a world turned upside down. If you are a fan of Dickens and the intricacies of 18th century customs and daily life, you’ll enjoy this macabre book.
Baltakmens includes extended discussions and symbols illuminating society’s corruption and cruelty. For example, as one of the primary characters goes homeward at night, Baltakmens describes the moment:
Midnight has fallen on the dark streets of Haught and Battens Hill, and the watchman saith, All is well. We have prospered by the day, set our lock and bolt, and tried the windows, and all is well. Want, murder, desperation, and despair still roam in the filthy alleys and tenements of The Steps and breed countless wrongs in their path, yet the watchman passing cries, All is well. The watchman clears away the hungry children who hunt for scraps behind the New Theatre while a nobleman’s carriage rolls by, but decent folk turn, sighing in their sleep, and faintly hear the report: all is well. The prison gates are shut, and what is within is surely confined there, and touches us not; therefore, all is well.
Ah, but the prisoners are far too clever to let a mere gate limit their influence. Beware.

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