Ravenous by MarcyKate Connolly, 276pp, RL 4
Ravenous by MarcyKate Connolly begins shortly after the devastation of her debut novel, Monstrous ends. Published in 2014, I somehow missed reading Monstrous and will be adding it to my TBR pile. However, the only way that not having read Monstrous first affected my understanding and enjoyment of Ravenous was that I wanted to run out and buy it so that I could read the two simultaneously!
What drew me to Ravenous in the first place was the mention of Baba Yaga, the witch from Russian fairy tales who lives in a hut that stands on enormous chicken legs and has an insatiable appetite that includes eating children. For more Baba Yaga books, click here. But Ravenous is about so much more. Greta, a character from Monstrous, becomes the narrator of Ravenous. Greta has returned to her hometown of Bryre from the broken village of Belladoma where a usurping king, driven mad by greed and magic, has finally been dethroned. King Ensel, among his other heinous crimes, stole a magical cornucopia from the Sonzeeki, a sea monster living off the shore of Belladoma. Without this constant source of food, the Sonzeeki is forced to emerge from his cave every full moon to hunt. Without the sacrifices of girls from the neighboring town of Bryre, the Sonzeeki causes mass flooding in Belladoma every month.
With King Ensel gone, Bryre's King Oliver feels an obligation to help feed the people of Belladoma and plans to send an army to help with this. The start of Ravenous finds narrator Greta making an impassioned plea to King Oliver not to aid the place where she was held prisoner with other girls from Bryre, girls she watched fed to the Sonzeeki, one by one. When she fails, she returns home, her parents long disappeared, to her younger brother Hans. But Hans is nowhere to be found. Greta heads off into the woods to find him and quickly finds herself face to face with a hungry Baba Yaga, who makes a deal with her. If Greta can deliver the long hidden, magical cornucopia to her before the next full moon, she will hand over Hans.
Greta heads off again, heartsick to think that she will have to return to Belladoma and the castle of King Ensel. Her search finds her locked up in a hidden village where mermaids, centaurs and other half-human creatures created by the evil wizard, King Ensel's lackey, in Monstrous, are hiding from persecution. Freed in a burst of flames, Greta continues her hunt with Dalen, an exiled centaur, at her side. The two face mercenaries, including their brutal Vincali, who has developed a taste for using magic. Once in Belladoma, Greta and Dalen must stay hidden as they search the ruins of the castle using a maze of tunnels. Secrets are revealed, hidden maps and magics are unearthed and Greta finds she must betray people she once considered friends, including King Oliver, who, she learns has plans to use the cornucopia, if it can be found, to feed the Belladomans. As the two decode the map and search out the possible hiding places of a madman, the full moon grows closer and their inability to stay hidden. And, as Greta uses the magical potions she finds herself wanting to use them more and more and also experiencing the backlash of the magic.
One aspect of Ravenous that I especially liked was knowing that, even after Greta finds the cornucopia, she still has to deal with King Oliver and Vincali, both of whom want it for different reasons. It seems almost insurmountable, but Connolly plots with skill and all the pieces come together for a fantastically explosive climax and a very satisfying ending. Connolly weaves familiar elements from classic fairy tales into her stories but makes them completely her own as well. In one turn that I especially liked, Greta takes a collection of fairy tales with her on her journey to read and, over the course of the story as she shares them with Dalen, she notes that the fairy tales never end well, turning the "happily ever after" we are all so familiar with on its head. Happily, Connolly ends Ravenous, well, happily.
Source: Review Copy