Blackwing by Ed McDonald
Book of the Month
I received an advanced copy of Blackwing through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Ed McDonald, Orion Publishing Group and Gollancz.
*Minor spoilers may follow*
McDonald begins this tale by placing the reader in the Misery - following the action of Captain Galharrow and his crew of Blackwing mercenaries during their latest mission. The Misery is a post-apocalyptic, shifting wasteland under a broken and wailing bruise-coloured sky. This vast expanse of land is unpredictable, frightening and full of unspeakably grotesque mutated creatures. Only the bravest dare venture throughout these parts, navigating under the guidance of the three moons.
Captain Galharrow is an unapologetically unlikable, battle-hardened military veteran whose actions and experience inspire the loyalty of his squad and the book is presented through his first person perspective. He has had a blood filled and chaotic past and when he isn't acting as a sort of bounty hunter, he spends his time drinking himself unconscious and he occasionally talks to an extremely powerful being presenting itself in the form of a raven. The camaraderie and banter between Galharrow and his crew are excellent and reminiscent of The Bonehunters from Malazan: Book of the Fallen, incorporating characters who are just as colourful. My personal favourites were Tnota, the sex addicted navigator and ranger and Nenn, a nose-lacking intemperate and deadly soldier. During quieter scenes, when Captain Galharrow isn't describing the current events, depth is created to the world and his character when he ponders and reflects on relationships, histories and present-time happenings. The world building is one of the best I have seen presented in the first person and in my mind, is on par with Mark Lawrence's similar works. It was great to follow Galharrow's viewpoint, whether he is fighting, getting drunk or in some sort of political turmoil - so much happens to him throughout this narrative.
Blackwing places us in the middle of the action and McDonald has created a large number of unfamiliar names, places, and world terminology that are present from the beginning. I had to take notes for the first few chapters but after that everything seemed to flow smoothly. Initially confusing phrases such as "spinners", "drudge" or "skweams" quickly became identifiable regarding how they fitted into the world's vocabulary. They were understandable due to the context in which they were presented. The created world combines the post-apocalyptic elements discussed above with typical modern fantasy stories cities, factions and combat. The whole world isn't the Misery, that is just a proportion, albeit a vast amount, that was the result of the last war and the battles between the God-like Nameless and Deep Kings. The bigger picture of this world's happenings is all being orchestrated by these unbelievably powerful and malevolent beings. Certain characters also have destructively powerful magical wrecking potential that can destroy entire armies. Without going into too much detail, the magics created in this story were admirable, original and scientific-like.
This is quite a dark story full of gritty and macabre deaths aplenty with a good, but not an overwhelming amount of adrenaline fueling action. Certain sections are superbly intense though and this book is highly unpredictable. It features twists, betrayal, political disputes and half the time when I thought I had analysed where the story was going, I was then blindsided or completely shocked by a revelation. The publisher stated that this as being "gritty epic fantasy for fans of Mark Lawrence and Scott Lynch" and I cannot disagree. I count myself amazingly lucky that I have been one of the first people to review this. Blackwing is a splendid debut that is brilliantly written and I found it amazingly difficult to put down. It superbly presents a completely original, complex fantasy world with incredible and believable characters. Guaranteed already, this will be one of the best books I will read this year. I can see Blackwing becoming a big deal in the fantasy world and I can't wait for the next book in the Ravens' Mark trilogy.
James Tivendale, 9.2/10
James gives a strong overview above of the themes of the book so I’m just going to echo him and say this is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read this year by far. Veering smoothly away from the cliches of fantasy but keeping the fantastical thrill that draws readers like me in to these extraordinary worlds, Ed McDonald manages to balance world building with character-driven action.
I loved the Misery. I could feel the sand and warped magic, the shimmering shadows of something that could be nothing, or could be your worst nightmares calling out to you in a child’s voice. It was genuinely deeply disturbing, and Captain Galharrow is a strong protagonist who despite fighting a host of internal demons is also a man who gets things done. You trust him, which I think is an important quality when there is a lot of geographical, historical and magical information that the reader needs to grasp for the world and the fighting to make sense.
I think this book stands out from the herd for me due to its simplicity. We’re given a small group of people to keep track of, and we stick with them. Huge, world-destroying things are going on, but McDonald keeps it trim and moving, and doesn’t leave a gaping ending. If you want a fantasy novel without having to wade through three volumes being published years apart so you forget what’s going on, this works. If you really enjoy a trilogy, I’m sure the subsequent books will be worth the wait.
I highly recommend.
Cat Fitzpatrick, 9/10
All reviews for: The Raven’s Mark
The Raven’s Mark #1
The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow's Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow...
The Raven’s Mark #2
Four years have passed since Nall’s Engine drove the Deep Kings back across the Misery, but as they hurl fire from the sky, darker forces plots against the republic....
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