I have yet another book out now—The Raven Before the Dove is the sixth instalment in the Flirting with the Zodiac series. And another book means yet another playlist.
Look, we all know how much I hate writing the blogs for these playlists at this point. I don’t know why. I usually have a playlist, and I like music.
So let’s cut to the chase and get this over with. Without further ado, the playlist for The Raven Before the Dove!
I Heard the 1980s Were Back
Parts of 2022 have really felt like a bit of a time warp. The 1990s are back in vogue, Top Gun was back in the theaters, and Kate Bush’s 1985 hit “Running Up That Hill” was topping the charts.
Record scratch. Kate Bush?
I remember listening to Kate Bush both as a kid and as college student. My timing was off. I was too young for the song’s initial popularity, and I was a bit too early for Stranger Things.
I remember I always wanted to listen to The Hounds of Love. The album art was very pretty (and very ‘80s) with its soft pinks. My dad would try to dissuade me, because you have to be in the mood for it.
Out of all the tracks on Hounds of Love, I’m particularly fond of “Cloudbusting.” Bush took inspiration from the autobiography of , whose father was involved in cloud-seeding projects in the mid-20th century.
I’ve always found the song to have a sort of dreamy, fairy-tale quality. The lyrics refer to the weather (obviously), as well as dreaming of certain places. When we hear about being “on top of the world,” I’ve always imagined a sort of mystical castle in the sky.
Obviously, the reality isn’t quite as fanciful, but I felt this song fit Cirrus to some degree. He’s dreaming of going back to a place in his childhood and mourning the loss of a parental figure.
The references to the weather and the almost “celestial” atmosphere of the song cement my imagined “cloudscape” here.
Speaking of Change…
Bob Dylan is another artist I have to be in the mood for. I’m sure Dylan is an artist I could come to appreciate, but so far my exploration has started and stopped with “All Along the Watchtower” (and not the Hendrix version). The song has a medieval vibe, both with the idea of “plowmen” digging the earth, athe “princes” and “foot servants.”
The song is about class conflict. The “joker and thief” are disaffected members of the working class. One has to steal to get by; one isn’t taken seriously. Both are angry; both are keenly aware of the injustices of the world.
The song ends with the suggestion that change is coming; we don’t see the incisive act. Are the two riders who approach the joker and the thief? The growling wild cat and the howling wind seem to suggest supernatural involvement, that perhaps all of nature is rebelling. These rides might be spectral, perhaps harbingers of a rewritten world order, where those who man the watchtower—the elites—are toppled.
Both the vibe and the messaging are in line with The Raven Before the Dove. We have a medieval-esque world where the current powers are cruel and untenable. Things must change. This conversation is very much something that might be taking place in a pub somewhere in Avalarion …
Back to the ‘80s
Kate Bush teamed up with one of the ‘80s other big British superstars, the former frontman of Genesis, Peter Gabriel.
Gabriel’s work in the 1980s after leaving Genesis wouldn’t necessarily put him in the “experimental” category. “Sledgehammer,” for example, is best remembered for its popular music video.
Perhaps Gabriel’s most fitting solo track is “Solsbury Hill.” I mean, the lyrics specifically reference an “eagle.” Gabriel’s song is about “going home”—something Cirrus spends a good deal of the book longing to do.
References to liberty “pirouetting,” cutting connections—the lyrics seems to apply to Cirrus taking control of his life.
Then we make a hop forward in time to “Little Sister” by Queens of the Stone Age. The lyrics are troubling, problematic, amid a catchy guitar riff. The song provides a darker, more personal edge to the playlist, shadowing some of the other themes in the book.
Games without Frontiers
This is a duet between Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush; if you’re unfamiliar with it, take a listen. The song criticizes world leadership and politics, suggesting that politicians are playing “games” that have dangerous consequences for everyone else. It makes references to “Adolf” building a “bonfire” and “Enrico” playing with it. Other lyrics suggest that all the “players” have hills to fly their flags on, with one major exception.
This is a good pick for a book that has a fair bit to say about war and politics. We don’t see much of the misery that goes on among the “common people”—The Raven Before the Dove focuses almost exclusively on the leadership level. But we do see that the “games” the elites are playing have real consequences. In fact, we might think of this track as a sort of anthem for the Zodiac series as a whole. The series takes place against the backdrop of a massive intergalactic war, with plenty of political jockeying—and no one is really “the winner.”
Waking the Magic in The Raven Before the Dove
One of the plot threads in The Raven Before the Dove is that Cirrus—a mage who uses generative magic—is powerless, thanks to his magic “sleeping.” As Cirrus’s magic returns to him, he becomes more powerful. He also encounters tutors and mentors, who help him to realize the potential of his magic—which he ultimately uses to confront his mother and end the decade-long war.
“Waking the Witch” is one of the songs from the second half of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love album; it’s part of the suite that explores a woman lost at sea and discovering her own power. Obviously, that’s a good fit for Cirrus: he is literally awakening into his own power. We might characterize him as “a witch”—one who is “waking up” for the first time.
It didn’t hurt at all that the lyrics ask us to “help this blackbird” (blackbird being British slang for a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman)—Cirrus is a raven.
“Rhiannon” carries on the themes of feminine magic. It also references, to some degree, Celtic mythology and, yes, the lyrics do say that Rhiannon takes to the sky “like a bird in flight.” It also poses the question of who will ultimately be welcomed to Rhiannon’s bed—a question that is pertinent to Cirrus’s situation as well, since he’s accompanied by three alpha birds.
As a final “throwback,” I added “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by The Police. The song is mostly about the beguiling nature of love—almost as though it’s a magic spell.
Back to the Twenty-First Century
“Warm Tape” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers isn’t a song about magic, but it is a song about love—and I think it makes a good follow up to the smooth sounds of “Wrapped Around Your Finger.” There might be other songs by the Peppers that make more reference to magic, but “Warm Tape” has, for me, a sort of magical sound.
I ended the playlist with two electronica/house/dance tracks from two different Swedish artists. The first is “Firebird” by Galantis, which seemed fitting for Cirrus—and not just because it references the stars and wanting to hang out with the boys.
The final song is probably the one I would pick as the book’s overall “anthem”—or at least the theme for the latter half of the book. “Generate,” by Eric Prydz, literally speaks to “generating” love, which is a major theme in Raven and the Zodiac series as a whole. The universe is messed up, out of balance, and bad things seem to be the norm rather than the exception.
SFF Asks Us to Look Forward and Rethink Worlds
The message is that this isn’t true—love is more powerful and more common. We just have to make it so. I think that’s the ultimate messaging of the Zodiac series, at the end of it: love is the most powerful force in the universe, and as much as it seems absent, we can change that.
One of the reasons I love sci-fi and fantasy is how it acts as a mirror to our own world. And this is the truth in our reality too: cruelty, despair, evil—it’s everywhere. It seems utterly inescapable. But, as Strix points out to Cirrus, the first step in remaking our world is to believe that it can be done. Once we can envision a new world, then we can power it by believing that it’s possible.
Strix advises Cirrus that it’s easy to doubt; Cirrus struggles with doubt. Can it really be so easy to remake the world? Is that really all we have to do? Imagine it, believe that it’s possible?
Yes, to some degree. There are other steps, but we have to let our imaginations and our convictions power our actions. If we don’t believe it’s possible, as Strix says, our new world, our imagined future will be broken before it even has a chance. Those who would do evil will break it if they think they can make us doubt—because doubt makes us hesitate. It makes us stop trying.
The messaging, then, is that we can still remake the world. We simply have to believe that it is possible—and the path forward will reveal itself.