Book Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

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Netgalley Synopsis: 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.

Author: Ed McDonald

Title: Blackwing

Publisher: Gollancz

Date: 2017

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With some books, you know you are in for a heck of a ride within the first few paragraphs. Blackwing grabbed me so fast; after the first page, I knew I wouldn’t be able to put this book down.

I was right.

Magical evil children. A land that is deadlier than any foe. Spinning light from the moon. Explosions. Bloodshed. Expletives. Loss. Humour. And a God that rips himself out of the protagonist’s arm in the form of a bird whenever he feels like offering some deep and meaningful advice such as “Get her out” (N.B: our hero has no idea who she is or where he is supposed to be getting her out from!).

This book literally has it all!

Ryhalt Galharrow used to be one of the nobility, the cream, the one who can afford to buy their commission. But that is in the past. Now he is a mercenary, scrapping together a living while waiting for orders from his master, Crowfoot, one of the Nameless that is so far beyond human understanding that even Galharrow has no idea what he may do.

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 that 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 the man underneath, of who he could have been and who he ended up being and why. His dry-wit and lack of respect for authority makes him a highly entertaining character.

Galharrow is confronted with his past in the form of Ezabeth Tanza, a highly accomplished Spinner whose power seems to outstrip everyone else’s. She is condemned as mad when she announces their only defence against the Deep Kings is a fake and doesn’t work. Galharrow helps her – and has no idea why.

The characters are all complicated and deep and their relationships grow and develop to reflect that. Nenn hates Ezabeth but it is clear she would die for Galharrow, and he for her. Dantry proved himself, not only to Galharrow but to himself as well. 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.

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