By Martin Lederle-Ensign
“The Seven Ravens” started life as a European fairy tale, one of the many that the Brothers Grimm collected. The basic story is as follows: a woodland couple has seven sons, but, more than anything, they want a daughter. Circumstances align, a daughter is born, but all seven brothers are cursed to live life as ravens. Poet David Elliott took “The Seven Ravens,” reworked it, and out came The Seventh Raven, opens a new window, a novel-length verse adaptation. The Seventh Raven follows the journeys of two of the siblings: Robyn, the youngest son, and his sister April (all of the other kids are named Jack, as is their father). We get to soar with Robyn as he finds his wings and embraces ravenhood. We walk a long, lonely path with April as she searches for her long-lost brothers.
I’m not even sorry for the pun, because there is no other way to say it: Elliott’s writing soars. Robyn and April--and every other character--speak in their own distinct poetic styles. Elliott explains this in an afterword, but, even without knowing the specifics of each style, the changes in meter and rhyme scheme keep the book moving forward. Verse novels can sometimes feel stilted and forced, but the propulsive rhythm of Elliott’s verses dodges those pitfalls, making for a single-sitting page-turner.
The Seventh Raven is a beautiful, challenging novel in verse about sacrifice, family, and identity. It’s a book that encourages multiple readings, invites exploration of its many layers, and calls out to be read aloud. More than anything, it’s a stark example of the power of poetry to grab our attention and shed new light on old stories.