Book Review: ‘The Last Raven’ by Steve McHugh

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Most fantasy books tend to be set in a medieval or, at best, Renaissance, time period. Or they take place in some alternate world that mimics our notions of these times. With The Last Raven by Steve McHugh, we’re offered a rare fantasy novel that is set in both modern times and the real world. I mean, the FBI is a huge part of his story! It was a very refreshing take on the genre that I really enjoyed.

[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Podium for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of The Last Raven contains some spoilers!]

The Last Raven takes place in our world, but not

McHugh’s The Last Raven is set in a world remarkably like ours. There are even multiple pop-culture references from our world. The only real difference is the existence of those touched by the rift. That includes revenants, people who die that the rift brings back to life, fiends, animals that die before being brought back to life, and the riftborn, people who are close to dying that the rift heals.

Anything touched by the rift comes away with new powers. There are different classifications of those powers but the energy of the rift seems to affect everyone it touches differently.

No one really knows what the rift is or how it works. It is a dimension alongside our own that occasionally tears through to ours. The tears let the energy come through and that energy affects people and animals in apparently random ways. No one knows what power someone who comes back from the rift has until the power manifests and even that is variable. Some people manifest as soon as they return and others take days, weeks, or even months to develop powers.

And there’s the difference between revenants and riftborns. Besides the fact that the former are already dead when the energy from the rift fuses with them, the riftborns have another power. They can access special pocket dimensions referred to as embers.

Each riftborn individual has their own embers. When a riftborn is in their embers they can heal almost any injury. They can also pass into the rift itself from there. Time passes differently in the embers and the rift compared to Earth. What feels like minutes there might be hours here, hours can easily become days, etc. The embers also have their own dangers and must be used carefully.

Uneasy balance

Rift-fused people and animals have been around for as long as there have been people, but the general population has only been aware of them for the last few decades. This means that many people distrust anything to do with the rift, and are afraid of those people that should be dead, but aren’t.

The fear and prejudice have led to a new division of law enforcement called the Rift-Crime Unit, or RCU, to investigate crimes by or against rift-fused people.

The Last Raven
The Last Raven. Podium

But the RCU is only a modern law enforcement agency. There exists an older order to keep the balance between the rift and humanity: the Guilds. There are seven guilds, each named for a different bird of prey.

Each guild is attached to a different Ancient (very old rift-born) and consists of a small number of highly-trained fighters that are directed by their Ancient. A special medallion identifies them. If one of them leaves the guild (by choice or death) their medallion is passed on to their replacement.

Meet Lucas, the last Raven

Lucas Rurik is the last surviving member of the Raven Guild. The Ravens were wiped out during a sneak attack seven years ago but Lucas just managed to survive. Racked with guilt, he withdraws from life as a riftborn and pretends to the world that he is human.

But then an old friend calls and draws him back. There’s been an attack on a joint FBI and RCU operation. Both humans and rift-fused were killed and his friend Issac, head of the RCU, isn’t sure who he can trust. 

Lucas doesn’t think twice about coming to his friend’s aid. He knew some of the RCU agents that were killed and he wants vengeance. But the more they investigate the stranger things become. It soon becomes clear that the attack on the FBI and RCU is a part of something much bigger. And Lucas is hiding a few secrets of his own that could change everything.

The Last Raven by Steve McHugh is a great novel

This novel checks all the boxes. Lucas is a fun and dynamic lead character. He has a strong internal code that guides him and a few secrets that we learn along the way that keeps things interesting. The supporting cast is vibrant and vastly inclusive. They all have backstories that get filled in as the story progresses and they feel very real. The bad guy is horrible but has depths to explore in later stories.

The actual plot is fun with a few twists that kept me engaged. The story is fast-paced and pulls you along with a nice combination of action and emotional reveals. There is even a (mostly) satisfying resolution at the end of the book.

My only real qualm with the book is that it is the first of a planned series and instead of being a completely contained tale, it leaves some of the plot hanging to be picked up in the next book. I really dislike this because I feel like a well-written book with good characters (which The Last Raven is) will sell more books in a series without the 1,000 Arabian nights trick.

There is a somewhat satisfying conclusion that removes one bad guy and concludes the FBI/RCU attack but the larger conspiracy is left hanging. So just be aware that if you start this series you are in for a long haul if you want a completely satisfying conclusion. Thankfully the storytelling was good so that’s not a real detractor, just a pet peeve I guess.

Action movie potential

The Last Raven has the appeal of a great action movie. There is a nice mystery, a compelling lead, strong support, and enough adrenaline to leave you with a pleasant high afterward but not so much that you need a cigarette. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hollywood snapped this story up for its next big next franchise. 

Steve McHugh’s newest book has a broad appeal that I think anyone looking for a nice read will enjoy. I recommend it for everyone over, let’s say, 13. There are a few bloody scenes but nothing too intense. I really enjoyed reading it and am eagerly looking forward to the next installment.

My Rating: 9/10

The Last Raven by Steve McHugh is available now, and the sequel Blessed Odds is available for preorder and releasing February 21, 2023.

Do you plan on reading it? Let us know over on Twitter or The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our latest book review, The World We Make!

Book Review: The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin

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