Sent to me by Gollancz in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 27/07/17
Format: Paperback, 382pp
Genre: Epic Fantasy/Science Fiction
Summed up in a word: Legendary
It has been quite a while since I dared let myself get pulled into a fantasy trilogy. I love fantasy (especially mixed with SF) but committing to a trilogy, especially as a book reviewer, is time consuming. Luckily for me, Blackwing was amazing! There is already a lot of hype around Blackwing and the hype is well deserved. This is a true epic fantasy novel, populated with a magic polluted desert wasteland; an epic war between god-kings and sorcerers; a rough and foul-mouthed Blackwing mercenary who just wants peace from the demons that hold him; and fearsome entities that strike fear into even the hardest of hearts… It is epic, you get the gist 😀
You think you know Misery? You’ve not seen anything yet…
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.
Blackwing is a gritty epic fantasy for fans of Mark Lawrence, Scott Lynch and Daniel Polansky.
Blackwing, for me, was a outstanding return to epic fantasy. I have been away for so long but Ed McDonald makes me want more! I know it is clichè but I actually could not put this down. Quality characters, huge/bold settings, dark magic; and an intense and high stakes plot centred around a war between sorcerers and god kings. You know, the usual 😀 I cannot recommend this more to all readers. It is violent, foul mouthed and treacherous, but it is also worth your precious reading time. There is so much to talk about in this review so please bare with me! I want to talk about all the elements that makes Blackwing so great but I am certain I will miss something. Lets start with the good stuff.
The best part about Blackwing is that, though it is Book 1 in a trilogy, it never feels like it is setting up other books. Ed McDonald is solely focused on bringing us a quality story and it really shows. I was purely fixated on Galharrow and his mission to protect Ezabeth at all costs. EM is a great talent and his writing style is certainly unique. McDonald manages to blend fantasy, horror, humour, grit, passion and emotion into multiple storylines. At one moment I would be on edge with a lump in my throat; then the next I would be laughing hard at a quip or scenario that EM has expertly threaded into the plot. I usually find myself preferring plot over characters or vice versa, but with Blackwing I liked both equally.
Blackwing Captain Ryhalt Galharrow traverses The Misery, a magic polluted desert wasteland, in search of traitors, sympathisers and thieves. He is a mercenary for hire who brings back the heads of those who have turned on the government and their ideals. He has a noble past but after exile from that life, he has chosen to walk the path of war. Answering to only one individual, a sorcerer called Crowfoot, who granted him captaincy of an elite unit call Blackwing. Crowfoot contacts Galharrow through a magical raven tattoo on his forearm. The raven actually rips itself from his skin and gives him seemingly unconnected orders. So cool 😀 EM has an edge to his writing that I could not get enough of. Each and every detail that EM has included has a purpose and rapidly changes the tone or atmosphere of the plot with ease.
An order arrives after a 5 year wait. Crowfoot sends Galharrow to prevent the capture of Ezabeth who is being targeted because she has information that is paramount to changing the balance of the war with The Deep Kings. Ezabeth believes that Nall’s Engine, the weapon surrounding The Misery to keep out The Deep Kings, doesn’t function properly. She has a theory based on work done by an old friend of Galharrow’s that the engine doesn’t have the energy required to activate and that the Range is actually defenceless against the all-powerful kings. This is a theory that will most certainly get her killed.
The Republic are certain that Nall’s Engine is in full working order; and anyone who says otherwise is a heretic and a traitor. But once an idea has taken hold of people, it is hard to destroy. The powers that be want to maintain order at any cost. But with spies everywhere, The Deep Kings have the information they need to mount an attack. They are coming…
There is a vast amount of characters in Blackwing. From Galharrow, Ezabeth and the band of mercenaries that help them fight and find their way through The Misery to the formidable Deep Kings and their army of pure evil. EM’s mind is something else, his dedication to memorable characters is inspiring. The Deep Kings have several entities they send to The Range/Valengrad to kidnap and/or kill. From Darlings, children with powerful psychic abilities, to the Drudge who are an army of humans that have been consumed by The Misery.
Each creature strikes fear into heart of all humans, including the reader, and they make for some epic scenes of carnage. What I loved about EM’s work is that he is extensive and generous with the action and intensity. A lot of authors build up to things slowly, as if savouring the moment, but EM puts the reader in the thick of it all the way through. Galharrow is a perfect example of how EM adds depth and complexity without compromising the gritty, dark and badass soul of the story and its characters.
Galharrow is from noble blood but was exiled. Forced to give up his life and become a soldier for hire. Then becoming involved with the Nameless, he becomes a valuable asset for Crowfoot, and finally has purpose. Galharrow is foul-mouthed, angry and broken. Spending time in The Misery doesn’t help. The magic seeps into the skin of everyone who enters it and if you spend to much time inside then you will be consumed by it. I loved The Misery as it almost a character in itself. The magic distorts the landscape, shifting the ground, drawing the characters away from the safety of the Range and into the fields populated with creatures. I would have loved a map to give me an overall idea of the lay of the land, I am sure there will be one in the finished edition (as I got a proof copy for review).
Sorcery is a key element to the story and there are plenty of sorcerers to go around. The Nameless, powerful protectors of the West, and The Deep Kings of the west are locked in a war that has raged for centuries. They are both fighting for the upper-hand and some have even died to protect the defenceless. Their war will most definitely be the centre-piece for the trilogy and I can’t wait to see what EM develops the conflict. I am also intrigued to see where EM takes Saravor, a powerful master-manipulator, who has his claws in Galharrow’s soul.
EM used plenty of varied and often opposing themes to make Blackwing a much more striking read. The significant difference in thoughts/actions between Ezabeth and Galharrow made for an interesting dynamic. Ezabeth is solely focused on finding out the truth; Galharrow wants the truth to remain the same as it always was. I thought that EM’s use of science-fiction also meshed well with the plot. The science is fascinating and brings a thought provoking edge to the story. The scope and depth of the plot is something to be applauded and I cannot wait for it to be continued in the next instalment.
I have given Blackwing 5/5 as it was a brilliant read. The bold high-stakes plot mixed with memorable and complex characters was a recipe for success. I am suffering from what is commonly referred to as a ‘book hangover’ after finishing Blackwing so EM needs to get on it and bring another instalment out soon!
About Ed McDonald
Ed McDonald has spent many years dancing between different professions, cities and countries, but the only thing any of them share in common is that they have allowed him enough free time to write. He currently lives with his wife in London, a city that provides him with constant inspiration, where he works as a university lecturer. When he’s not grading essays or wrangling with misbehaving plot lines he can usually be found fencing with long-swords, rapiers and pollaxes.