Book Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Blackwing 1

Publisher: Gollancz

Date: 2017

Genre: Fantasy

Plot: 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 and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy.

But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard’s paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.

The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall’s ‘Engine’, a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery – a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier.

But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic’s defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic’s bluff.

*Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning at no extra cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase

I received Blackwing from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

You know that feeling within the first few paragraphs of a book and you know it’s got you? Blackwing did that for me: magical evil children; a deadly land; explosions; bloodshed; expletives; humour; loss… I could go on. It’s not one for the squeamish but if you like a side of darkness with your fantasy, this book needs to be on your radar.

Ryhalt Galharrow used to be one of the nobility, the cream; one who can buy their commission, not earn it. But that’s the past. Now, he’s a mercenary, scraping together a living while waiting for orders from his master.

Said master – Crowfoot – is a God, one of the Nameless. He communicates with his followers in a unique way: he literally rips himself out of their arm through a tattoo and takes the form of a crow. The descriptions can be graphic but not too extreme – I’m not the best with gory images and I didn’t have a problem.

Burning was a bad way to go, but my reserves of empathy were usually exhausted on orphans and puppies, a lot higher up the list than arsonists and arseholes.

Galharrow is the exact type of reluctant hero we all love. He pretends he doesn’t care: he does. He pretends he doesn’t love: he does, all too deeply. This man is built of layers and as the novel progresses, we slowly get glimpses of who he truly is, who he could’ve been and who he ended up as and why. He’s brave and determined, even when facing impossible odds, but also brings across elements of humour and wit that break tense scenes and keeps momentum going.

Faced with his past in the form of an old flame, Galharrow must figure out where his loyalties lie. Ezabeth has more power than most, but condemned as being mad sets Galharrow on a mission to rescue her – even if he doesn’t know why she’s so important. What his master wants, his master gets – regardless of the price his servants must pay in the process.

The characters are complicated and deep, and their relationships grow and develop to reflect that. Nenn – Galharrow’s second-in-command – hates Ezabeth but would die for Galharrow, and he for her. Ezabeth’s brother – Dantry –  proves his worth – to himself more than anyone else. Ezabeth remains a mystery for the majority of the novel, but she is a woman of power and strength of will – no wonder she captured Galharrow’s heart and never let him go.

The world created is a complicated one, with Nameless and Deep Kings waging war: both Gods, yet neither truly Gods.

McDonald makes it work though – you figure out as you go what is going on. Despite the complexities, you’re never left feeling you don’t know where you are.

This book is not one for the squeamish, or if you’re offended by swearing. It is dark and gritty, with people exploding, burning, being eaten alive or losing limbs on quite a regular basis. But it’s humorous, entertaining and gripping from beginning to end.

I’ve read over forty books this year. This one may have just topped them all. Go – go and read!

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Book Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

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