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The Raven's Seal [Kindle Edition]

Andrei Baltakmens
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $4.99

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Book Description

"Baltakmens captures the flavor and scope of classic British fiction." —Kirkus Reviews

"This atmospheric, character-driven, and plot-twisty bildungsroman is a worthy paean to Oliver Twist and Great Expectations." —Booklist

In the fictional 18th-century city of Airenchester, England, the body of Thaddeus Grainger’s rival turns up stabbed to death in an alley just hours after their inconclusive duel. Only one suspect comes to mind. Charged with murder, Grainger’s fate is sealed before his trial even begins.

A young gentleman of means but of meaningless pursuits, Grainger is cast into the notorious Bellstrom Gaol, where he must quickly learn to survive in the filthy, ramshackle prison. The “Bells”—where debtors, gaolers, whores, thieves, and murderers all mix freely and where every privilege comes at a price—will be the young man’s home for the rest of his life unless he can prove his innocence.

Despite his downfall, his friends—the journalist William Quillby and Cassie Redruth, the poor young girl who owes Grainger a debt of gratitude—refuse to abandon him. But before they can win his freedom, they must contend with forces both inside and outside the prison determined to keep Grainger behind bars and, at the same time, decode the meaning behind the crude wax seal that inspires terror in those who know its portent.

Set against the urban backdrop of late 18th-century England, THE RAVEN'S SEAL unravels a tale of corruption, betrayal, murder, and—ultimately—redemption and love.


Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

That New Zealander Baltakmens is a Dickensian scholar will come as no surprise to readers who choose his second novel: his writing style perfectly reflects the Victorian master, right down to the sly humor in characters’ names, like the housekeeper Mrs. Scourish, the journalist William Quillby, and Swinge, the bribe-taking jailer. Falling into the moody twilight of Bellstrom Gaol, “crouched . . . like a black spider on a heap of spoils” above the fictional English city of Airenchester, readers experience the dank despair of the debtors imprisoned within. After a dissatisfying duel with his rival, Massingham, the wounded Grainger is later shocked to find his enemy murdered and himself the chief suspect. Quickly convicted and sentenced to life in prison, Grainger tries, with the help of two loyal friends, to clear his name, following faint clues leading from dead man to loan shark to procuress to the jail’s oldest resident. Not an easy read but well worth the effort, this atmospheric, character-driven, and plot-twisty bildungsroman is a worthy paean to Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. --Jen Baker

Review

"Baltakmens captures the flavor and scope of classic British fiction." --Kirkus Reviews

"This atmospheric, character-driven, and plot-twisty bildungsroman is a worthy paean to Oliver Twist and Great Expectations." --Booklist

"Baltakmens gives readers of The Raven's Seal all of the history and the mystery his subtitle promises. The mood, color, details, and dialogue come across as very authentic . . . [his] characters would not be out of place in a work of Defoe or Thackeray. --ForeWord

"The author's exquisite prose rushes along full of surprises, shadows, betrayal, and squalid situations where the high-born and criminals intermix. A superb mystery with vibrant characters." --Historical Novels Review

Product Details

  • File Size: 2329 KB
  • Print Length: 419 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0985278757
  • Publisher: Top Five Books (October 13, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B009QOFF3I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #554,631 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Homage to Dickens December 21, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
Within the first few pages of The Raven's Seal, my thought was, this author is a fan of Dickens. Turns out, he has a PhD in English Literature with a special emphasis on that illustrious Victorian writer. Don't get me wrong - I love Dickens and I appreciated this homage to him.

Author Baltakmens does a more than admirable job of evoking Dicken's marvelous descriptive prose without turning it into caricature. Much of the story takes place inside a fictional prison, Bellstrom Gaol at the end of the 18th c., a place where money can decide if you live in relative comfort or if you are left chained and half-starved in a dark, dank cell and, thanks to Baltakmen's descriptions, it is very easy to picture the horrors of such a place.

Dicken's influence can also be seen in the characters. We have the poor but pure good girl, Cassie, who will fight to save the hero even though she knows the class system will never allow them to be together. There is the best friend, William Quillby, a writer of course, who will never stop fighting to save his friend. There is the villain who can appear ever genteel while stealing the eyes from blind paupers. And, of course, there is the hero, Thomas, who, no matter the circumstances, will remain heroic and continue to fight the good fight. The story is also often moved forward by unlikely coincidences and murky motives, again not unlike Dickens.

As in Dickens, the mystery itself, which really isn't much of a mystery, is less important than the social commentary and Baltakmens does a surprisingly accurate job of describing the social conditions of Georgian England during the infancy of the Industrial Revolution.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical mystery November 2, 2012
Format:Paperback
It's been a while since I've read a Historical novel that I've enjoyed so much. The prose is lyrical, descriptive and so evocative that you are easily drawn to the fictional town of Airenchester and the characters inhabiting it. From the genteel salons of the gentry to the squalor of the tenements in The Steps, every location is brought vividly to life.

Grainger is unjustly imprisoned on a murder charge and sequestered in Bellstrom Gaol and it was interesting to note how his incarceration differed from those of the 'lower orders'. Those who couldn't pay the gaoler's 'garnish' are fettered in chains and sent to the most desolate parts of the prison.

The thrust of the book is Grainger trying to find out who set him up and why. Rumours abound of a certain society called the Black Claw, which seems to have claws in every villainous pursuit in the town. But who is behind it all? Who is the mastermind? That is something you'll have to read the book to find out, I don't want to spoil it.

Some of the characters are larger than life, but never quite turn into caricatures. The names are wonderful - Mrs. Scourish for a housekeeper and Quillby for a writer, were just some of the great touches of humour within the book. It's a book to be experienced, not just read.

The author loves words and language, you can tell just by the way he's written this book. It's a book you want to savour like a good meal. Despite its old-fashioned language, it is easily read and fast-paced. Nothing I say in a review can do it justice. It's wonderful, a joy to read and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Review copy from Netgalley.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gentleman's honor indeed! January 22, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
Historical fiction is a difficult style of writing. The author has to be authentic, modern, archaic, and updated all at the same time. It must "feel" right, but it can't go overboard into the historical details and forget the narrative. The Raven's Seal Andrei Baltakmens is a great example of how it should be done.

The story is set in the fictional 18th-century city of Airenchester, England. The mystery begins when the body of Thaddeus Grainger's rival turns up stabbed to death in an alley just hours after their inconclusive duel.Grainger, a wealthy man well placed in English society, is the only suspect. He's imprisoned and fights to clear his name.

Baltakmens writes with the same descriptive flourish as Charles Dickens. His novel is part mystery and part social commentary on the conditions of Nineteenth Century England. While he evokes Dickens, he succeeds because he doesn't try to reproduce Dickens. The novel maintains a modern pacing and narrative style for modern readers. The dialogue, details, and even the names ring with authenticity. Plus it's just a darn good mystery yarn!

NetGalley preview copy
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "They are all bullies and brutes." December 28, 2012
Format:Paperback
"The Raven's Seal," by Andre Baltakmens, is set in England in 1775. "Bellstrom Gaol," a noisome prison that houses murderers, thieves, prostitutes, and debtors, hovers over the fictional town of Airenchester "like a black spider on a heap of spoils." At the other end of the social spectrum are the moneyed ladies and gentlemen who pay little heed to anyone not in their exclusive circle.

One evening, a normally carefree and phlegmatic young man named Thaddeus Grainger gets into a heated altercation with the arrogant and shifty Piers Massingham. After an unidentified attacker stabs Massingham, witnesses testify that Grainger had the motive, means, and opportunity to commit the crime. It seems that Thaddeus may be doomed to rot in Bellstrom, while his close friend, journalist William Quillby, and Cassie Redruth, a servant girl whom Thaddeus fancies, try to exonerate him. Grainger feels "like a man treading water in the aftermath of a shipwreck."

Airenchester is mired in corruption, deceit, greed, and hypocrisy. The haves exploit the have-nots and desperate people will do anything for a fee. Ladies of the evening ply their trade, tempting customers to purchase a few hours of companionship. Baltakmens poignantly portrays the miserable existence of those who dwell in "toppling piles of steep little roofs, [with] missing and broken tiles and slates, crooked, narrow chimneys set all askew and...winding, constricted stairs and pinched lanes."

The author elicits outrage over grave miscarriages of justice perpetrated by a mastermind (whose symbol is a black claw) and his minions. Thaddeus tries to avoid sinking into depression as the years crawl by.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Just wanted to add that I really enjoyed this book
Just wanted to add that I really enjoyed this book. The plot is nothing special, but the language and sentence structure is more than worth the price of admission. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Raymond S. Berry
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good read
I bought this book on a whim and I am so glad I did. It keeps the reader coming back for more. I found myself not wanting to put it down to see what else was going to happen. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Page Turner
Mr. Baltakmens is a Dickens scholar. He has written a wonderful mystery novel set in the late 18th century full of twists and turns that keeps the reader in suspense to the end. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Kes
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay, But Unfinished!
I found other authors that stood out ahead of this one. I'll get back to it soon after I finish "The Angel of Zin".

Could not finish! Read more
Published 16 months ago by F Hoenicke
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice Idea
I never like it when modern terms are used in historical fiction. It pulls the read out of the past and makes it less credible. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Judy M. Iwen
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
It was very touching . I hit the wrong thing on my first try at a review. I meant to say WW 2. We need to be reminded of the suffering of so many from Hitler's regime. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Janis M. D.
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeps you in suspense
This is one book I am so glad I got to read...It keeps you going..a page turner is ever I read one...I love these kind of books. Keep them coming
Published 20 months ago by Lucy Calderaro
2.0 out of 5 stars The Raven's Seal
The Raven'sSeal, I found to be disappointing.. The plot was very confusing and hard to follow. It was depressing and I would not recommend it to anyone.
Published 20 months ago by Doris Traver
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Mystery with Vibrant Characters
Gentleman Thaddeus Grainger idles his days, wasting his fortune, in 1776 England. One evening in a notorious tap-room he sees his nemesis, Mr. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Diane Scott Lewis
4.0 out of 5 stars The Raven's Seal
It was an interesting read. Suspenseful and intriguing and all in all pretty believable Would share with my contemporaries. Will look for more books by the author.
Published 20 months ago by Inez M. Haley
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More About the Author

Andrei Baltakmens was born in Christchurch, New Zealand. He has a Ph.D. in English literature, focused on Charles Dickens and Victorian urban mysteries. His first novel, The Battleship Regal, was published in New Zealand in 1996. He has published short fiction in various literary journals, including a story in the collection of emerging New Zealand male writers, Boys' Own Stories (2001). For five years he lived in Ithaca, New York, where he was part of the professional staff of Cornell University. THE RAVEN'S SEAL (2012), a historical mystery, is his latest novel and his first book to be published in the U.S. He is currently a graduate student in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, where he lives with his wife and son.

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