Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most famous and influential writers of our time, thanks to his numerous tales of the macabre. But before the orphaned Poe became a household name and pop culture icon, he spent his early life as a ward of the Allans, an affluent Virginian family. While his foster father, John Allan, a successful tobacco merchant, wanted him to follow in his footsteps in business, young Edgar longed instead to be a writer. The Raven’s Tale takes these facts about Poe’s life and weaves a story about the author at 17 as he struggles with his disapproving “Pa,” his intense first year in college, and his inner conflict with his muse.
In this YA novel, whose title references Poe’s best-known work, the poem “The Raven,” an artist’s muse can spring forth from their imagination as a physical manifestation. And while the muse is a source of inspiration to the artist, they also require creative sustenance to survive. Oh, and everyone can see the muse as they move about freely, and they’re not exactly looked highly upon by society.
Poe’s muse, Lenore, comes to life just as he’s preparing to leave for university. He already has a contentious relationship with John Allan, who disapproves of his son’s career choice and constantly threatens to disown him, so Lenore’s arrival — and in a somewhat grotesque form — poses a threat to the young man’s future. Allan even forbids Poe from writing in his spare time, but with Lenore around now demanding her fuel, it’s becoming harder and harder for the young collegiate to resist his urges to create.
Each chapter of The Raven’s Tale alternates between Poe’s and Lenore’s perspective. Poe goes off to study at the University of Virginia, where his father has failed to provide him with sufficient funds for tuition, room, and board. Fearing the wrath of his father, he shuns his muse, but Lenore needs Poe, so she tries desperately to hold on to him. And her suffering and sorrow are immense.
Author Cat Winters embellishes on the more intimate details of Poe’s actual history while spinning a fantastical encounter for the famous horror scribe. We not only get to know the young Poe, but are taken on a journey through a pivotal year of his life, learning how he became the tortured soul he was, what his inspirations were, and how he crafted some of his most-quoted lines. (Let’s just say there’s a lot of tapping going on.) Winters injects this supernatural story with cleverly crafted reworked versions of Poe’s poems and successfully turns the personal woes of the budding young writer into its own gothic tale.
While this is a YA novel that’s recommended by the publisher for ages 12 and up, it does read on the more mature side and would definitely also appeal to adults, especially those who are fans of Poe (like me). I grew up on Poe stories, so I was immediately drawn to this book, even though I tend to shy away from YA. I couldn’t resist the chance to return to the Poe universe and I liked the premise of a teenaged Edgar Allan Poe going off on his first year of college while coming face-to-face with his muse.
A note on the cover and design: I reviewed an advanced, uncorrected proof copy of the book, but even in that form, I instantly liked the cover design. It shows Lenore with her dark, raven-like feathered hair, with the back cover featuring a raven with its wings spread. Though the story takes place when Poe is a teenager, Lenore is shown wearing a cameo with the famous image of the author in it from when he is older; I’m guessing that is for our benefit since it’s such recognizable photo. The book was released in hardcover, which I haven’t seen in person. But I did see some images online of the physical copies, where it looks like the gothic design with its title in red metallic ink is more intense. So I definitely want to pick up the hardcover edition for my bookshelf to go along with my other Poe items. You can see photos of the hardcover here below from the author’s and publisher’s Instagram accounts.
Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family”•the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”