Just to keep things on the up and up, I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a review. Promise, this didn’t change my opinion of the book…
… Which is that it was fantastic. John Owen Theobald killed it with this one.
When I submitted a request to read this book, it wasn’t because I knew anything about the author. No, I thought the cover looked cool. I did actually read the synopsis, which really only solidified my decision. I read kids books, but I have a tendency these days to really stick to rereading those that I liked when I was younger, I don’t (typically) get so eager about a book aimed for a significantly younger crowd. But, this looked like a seriously cool book.
Anna is 12 years old when her mother is killed in the Blitz. With her father dead years before, she is sent to live with an uncle she barely knows. Her uncle is a Yeoman Warder in the Tower of London and is the Ravenmaster. At first, Anna despises the ravens and life within the Tower walls. The legend is, if the ravens leave the Tower, then England will fall. As the Blitz rages on and things begin to happen to the ravens, Anna gains new perspective on not only them, but her own life and tries to find answers for what exactly is going on.
I’ll admit, I don’t have a great deal of knowledge about Britain during the Blitz. Most of my mental picture comes from two (really amazing) episodes of Doctor Who. Given that I have a degree is art history, the rest of my WWII knowledge has more to do with the looted art work. And of course the rest is filled out with several books I read growing up about the Holocaust (Night, The Big Lie, The Diary of Anne Frank). This was a welcome addition to help me fill in the gaps in my picture of the war.
I certainly felt like this book captured some of the tension of what it was like living in London at the time: the fear and the fatigue, some people turning to looting and threats, while others retained kindness for those in need. Most of the book takes place within the Tower of London, but there are several glimpses of what was happening outside of those walls, as well. It was easy to picture life in London at that time.
This book was definitely directed to a younger audience, but never felt like it was talking down to any children reading. It was mature without being pretentious or condescending. This is a hard topic and I didn’t feel like he shied away. It wasn’t needless graphic, but he didn’t sugarcoat, either. It just as readable for adults, it didn’t feel like a book only for children.
And surprise for me! It’s only the first in a series! I did not realize this going in and there is a pretty huge cliffhanger at the end of the book. I will certainly eagerly await the next installments in this series.
Part of what drew me to the book what that a great deal of the book centered on the Tower’s Ravenmaster. You can actually follow the current Ravenmaster on Facebook. For the more brave at heart, Chris Skaife (the aforementioned current Ravemaster) has a blog with Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris called Grave Matters. This may of course lead you to Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris’s blog The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, which is an amazing blog of medical history and I read the entire thing in a day when I first discovered it a few years ago. And is also wildly off topic. At any rate, that should be quite enough to send some of you down the rabbit hole for a few hours.
But definitely check out These Dark Wings. I think it holds plenty of appeal for adults, but if that isn’t your thing, recommend it to your children, or grandchildren, or random children you see out and about. Happy reading!