Book Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

  • Blackwing (Raven’s Mark #1).
  • Ed McDonald.
  • 384 pages.
  • Fantasy / Dark Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Grimdark

Book Blurb

Nothing in the Misery lasts…

Under a cracked and wailing sky, the Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, created when the Engine, the most powerful weapon in the world, was unleashed against the immortal Deep Kings. Across the wasteland, teeming with corrupted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies are still watching—and still waiting.

Ryhalt Galharrow is no stranger to the Misery. The bounty hunter journeys to a remote outpost, armed for killing both men and monsters, and searching for a mysterious noblewoman. He finds himself in the middle of a shocking attack by the Deep Kings, one that should not be possible. Only a fearsome show of power from the very woman he is seeking saves him.

Once, long ago, he knew the woman well, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to unmake everything they hold dear and end the fragile peace the Engine has provided. Galharrow is not ready for the truth about the blood he’s spilled and the gods he’s supposed to serve…

Book Review

Blackwing thrusts you straight into the action. The story opens with Ryhalt Galharrow and his crew of mercenaries out in The Misery, hunting for sympathisers to the Dead King’s cause.

No story spoilers from me, you all know that by now but trust me, if you are a fantasy fan then Blackwing is a book that you NEED to read, it’s that damn good!

Setting

The Misery is a vast, shifting wasteland, featuring a bruise coloured wailing sky and a post-apocalyptic vibe. It was created when the sky was torn apart during the war between the near-god The Nameless, and The Deep Kings. Now inhabited by various disturbing and dangerous monstrosities (Drudge, Gillings, and Darlings) the only chance to find a remotely safe way to navigate it is to use the three moons that orbit above.

Blackwing doesn’t predominantly take place in The Misery, that area isn’t the whole world created by Mcdonald, we also spend a lot of time in the city of Valengrad located near The Misery. Both areas are vividly described and brought to life by Mcdonald. The Misery being bleak, desolate and nightmarish and Valengrad being a well-realised cityscape with rich areas, large houses, poor areas, squalid hovels, the Maud, and the citadel.

The magic in Blackwing comes across as original and often devastating in its destructive properties, easily being able to destroy many people at once by those who wield it.

One of the best ways that magic is used in Blackwing is the use of a Raven tattoo on Galharrow’s arm. It’s used as a way for Crowfoot, one of The Nameless, to contact him. When required the bird will claw through, bursting out of the skin where the tattoo is located. It’s a pretty fricking cool concept!

Main Conflict

While in The Misery, Galharrow is given a cryptic message by Crowfoot, one of The Nameless, and so a series of events and conspiracies are thrust into motion that forms the core story of the book as everything goes to s***.

Writing Style

Blackwing forgoes the far more common third person and multiple points of view books and is instead written in the first person. Told from the perspective of Blackwing Captain and bounty hunter, Ryhalt Galharrow, this works really well, as we get to delve deep into his character.

With first-person narration you have to rely on the narrator to add depth to the story and scope and scale to the world, telling you about current events and history. Mcdonald writes Galharrow in such a way that during the quiet scenes and moments, whether in a drunken stupor or just contemplating, he’s able to both reflect on the current happenings and reminisce on the past; giving you the additional depth, scope and scale to the world and story that you need to feel fully engrossed.

I really liked McDonald’s writing, it’s fast-paced, often frantic with the occasional poetic and emotional passage thrown in, and he sure knows how to write quality fight scenes. Also incorporating the now common dry and sarcastic style of humour found in the fantasy genre to great effect.

Characters

There’s plenty of other characters involved in the story. Some you’ll like, some you’ll hate, but they all have decent characterisation and are believable.

Galharrow

He’s a battle-hardened veteran, shaped by his life and past failures, who drinks too much, has numerous flaws, and is broken. With Galharrow, McDonald has managed to create a compelling central character for Blackwing.

Ezabeth Tanza

She is one of the cream (nobility), and a Spinner. A Spinner spins the phos (light) of the three moons found above Valengrad and The Misery, and turns it into energy.

Saravor

While mentioning characters, Saravor also deserves an acknowledgement. He is a fixer and — as you all know by now that I lack eloquence — I’ll describe him in the best terminology that I can use: he’s weird as f***!

Other Minor Characters

There also other members of the crew, like Tnota, the navigator who rather enjoys sex; and Nenn, a noseless, lethal soldier, with a bad attitude.

You can tell from the camaraderie and banter that they’ve saved each other’s lives, bled for each other, and been through a hell of a lot of tough times. Subsequently, their bond and connection is far deeper than that of mere crew-mates.

The Nameless & The Dead King

I mentioned The Nameless and The Dead King’s earlier and they both play a pivotal role in the story. They are beings of insurmountable power, even when hidden. They are the puppet masters pulling the strings on both sides of the conflict; orchestrating the main events that take place in Blackwing.

Final Thoughts

Blackwing is a compelling and gritty story. It’s not grimdark as such, but it’s definitely a dark tale. There’s plenty of believable characters, violence, action, betrayal, political machinations, secrets and revelations found within the pages. You will often find yourself having to read that stereotypical ‘just one more chapter‘ simply so that you can find out what happens next.

2017 seems to be the year of top quality fantasy debuts. Out of the ones I’ve read (there’s plenty more that I haven’t), Blackwing now joins the likes of The Dragon’s Legacy by Deborah A Wolf, Godblind by Anna Stephens, The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark, Age of Assassins by R.J. Barker, and Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. They show us that there are some top quality new authors to watch out for and that the fantasy genre is in safe hands for many years to come.

Blackwing is an outstanding debut and a must-read for any self-respecting fantasy fan. From the first page all the way through to the very last, I found myself captivated by the story, world and characters created by Mcdonald in this absolutely exceptional read.

Simply put, Blackwing is one of the books of 2017. Do yourself a favour and read it!

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase Blackwing:

Amazon UK /  Amazon US (October 3rd)  /  Book Depository

Originally published on The Tattooed Book Geek. Edited and reformatted for publishing on black CATastrophy.

About the Reviewer

Known as Drew in real life, The Tattooed Book Geek loves fantasy, video games and tattoos. Find him on Facebook here.

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