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Book Review – Raven

Robert Young Pelton of ‘The Worlds Most Dangerous Places’ fame has jumped into fiction writing with his new book Raven. If you like the outdoors and a good adventure tale which hits the ground running be sure to check this out.

Raven is the account of a young boy Alex Wilden who survives a disastrous school canoe trip in the coastal mountains of British Columbia. After being the only survivor of the ill fated excursion Alex must learn to survive with no formal training in one of the most dangerous places on earth. Six months later he shows up at a small coastal town alone in a birch bark canoe bearing a tribal tattoo of the Raven on his chest. Given up for dead by all but his father he relates the story of how he survived.

The tale moves quickly with the St. Andrews school expedition starting out all fun and happy. This is interspersed with flashbacks of Alex remembering the events that got him sent to the private school and the building of foreboding that the trip takes as things go from bad to worse.

For those readers who have planned or done expeditions of a similar nature be warned that some of it will set your teeth on edge with some of the bad planning, poor decision making and terrible leadership at the heart of this expedition. It serves as a good example of how small things can turn into big problems when the paddles hit the water. Pelton does well to capture the romance of canoe travel while juxtaposing its historical aspects versus stark reality. The details of the trip are handled well and realistically.

The characters in the tale are sketched quickly and starkly. From Alex, son of busy professional parents who was starting to get into trouble, to the tyrannical and megalomaniac school trip leader Smitty. Even sub characters are fleshed out well as the quiet narrative picks up pace like a rushing river. The first half starts slowly at first then builds to a crescendo with Alex becoming lost alone in the wilderness.

Fans of other wilderness survival stories such as Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain will enjoy Pelton’s attention to realistic details in the portrayal of Alex’s journey to survive and learn the ways of the forest. Many of the trail and survival tips are quite overt and useful ( how to tell ‘port’ is ‘left’ in a boat) but some are only understood as negative examples (the trip leaders planning skills are the definition of survivorship bias).

During his journey out Alex finds a unexpected mentor in the form of Vern a reclusive mountain man who lives in the area year round with a dark secret that forms a thread in the tale that Alex must understand to survive. This eventually leads Alex to interact with a native tribe of “the People” who are living here in secret to get away from the white man’s world that has threatened to destroy their way of life and culture.

The theme of mental and spiritual survival is also dealt with interestingly. One item that is very hard to show or teach is the less tangible aspects of survival. How a bond of friendship can get you through tough times, or that after long bouts of bad food, weather, and fatigue you might hallucinate and have to deal with that on your own. Some characters learn from the past and apply the survival lessons, others struggle to even know that there is a lesson there.

There is plenty of action from the river running, to explosions, fires and fights with wild animals. The environment is its own character of a sort and tests Alex with unrelenting lessons and harsh conditions as he tries to survive and find his way out via wilderness travel. Obviously Pelton has many trips of various kinds under his belt and his experience and skill at relating that experience makes the scenes much more true to life. If this were just a fictional adventure travelogue it would fall a little short, but Peltons addition of Alex’s spiritual and mental journey easily puts us into the kids head for the journey ahead.

This would be a great book for teens and older readers alike as the themes are not dumbed down while being easily grasped. Some of the desperate parts are pretty exciting  and you will be carried along with Alex on his journey.

Available as of Jan 1 2014 as a ebook from his website:

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