Oh I am so pleased to be a part of this tour. There are some damn good bloggers I really respect on this one, however, when I finished the book knowing I had to write this review my initial reaction was quite simply “Oh Fuck” because I just had no idea how I was going to put my thoughts into words. I think I’ve managed to pull it together but this book really just has to be read to be believed!
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.
I’m rarely completely speechless after finishing a book, I normally have a lot to say good or bad, but Blackwing left me utterly gobsmacked. It’s taken me a week to digest the book and work out how to even start writing this review. This is not a bad thing, Blackwing is an epic novel that grips you from the first page and is thoroughly extraordinary throughout.
Told as a first person narrative by Ryhalt Galharrow, we learn about his world and the people in it. It’s a harsh and desperate world with cities built around a dank and desperate desert like land called the Misery. The Misery is not somewhere you would want to go willingly, it conjures hallucinations, there are creatures that even your nightmares couldn’t conjure up and it’s the land of the Deep Kings.
The Deep Kings are all powerful, almost god-like magicians that can raise men from the dead, the drudge, these are their killing machines, their army and they are lethal. They have mage-like beings called Darlings (I love these names) which are scary as anything, and then there are the Brides, women that capture men under their spell with strong pheremones then swell up into gargantuan beasts (ick I feel sick again).
The Deep Kings want to capture the Cities from the Nameless. The Nameless are also god-like magicians, who created the Misery by the way, and who help protect the humans although they have their own selfish agendas and the humans can certainly become collateral damage. To protect the humans and the cities surrounding the Misery from The Deep Kings they’ve built a huge contraption called Nall’s Engine, and so we get to the grit of the story because a woman Galharrow knew as a boy, Ezabeth, reappears in his life with a theory about hall the Engine is broken and so begins a fight to unravel a tightly held political conspiracy with him on the wrong side.
The world building in this novel is outstanding, you feel like you are completely immersed in the world at all times and the imagery is vivid and so beautifully real, even when it’s not at all beautiful which lets face it is most of the time! The characters although always told from the one point of view are still described with a clarity which is bewitching and it’s easy to pick out favourites.
I’ve seen this book described as Grimdark but I just didn’t feel comfortable popping it into that pigeon hole myself. It’s pretty grim at times and it’s pretty dark yes but I felt like there was a lot of hope and that there was something far more epic fantasy about the way it flowed and pushed through. (I’ll get 50 comments disagreeing with me now)!
Nenn is Galharrow’s right hand man, except she’s a woman, a tough cookie, I actually imagined her a lot like Brienne of Tarth except tougher, yep I said tougher! She is loyal and straight talking, but can also fight tough and hard. I really liked Nenn and the way she fought unashamedly.
Galharrow’s other close ally on his team is Tnota, he does all of his navigating in the Misery, and is probably a bit too old for the fighting but he is just too damn good not to have on your team. A much more pleasant person to have around than Nenn, it’s like they are both the sugar and spice in Galharrow’s team.
Ezabeth and Galharrow were meant to be married as youngsters before life went pearshaped and they went their separate ways. Ezabeth is now a spinner, essentially a mage and she is powerful. I’m not going to say much more because talking about her gives too much away. But I do want to say how much I liked her, she is such a strong clever character. Ed McDonald has really written some epic women in this book I really loved how strong they were, they were equal to the men, could fight as well as the men, and I loved this.
And Galharrow, oh Galharrow, I did it again folks, I loved him so much, he was such a nice bloke! A true antihero who captured my heart the more I read. A troubled alcoholic, who would give his left leg if it would help someone he cared for. He is loyal to a bloody fault especially to Crowfoot, the Nameless who is in charge of the Blackwing. He has love in his heart, but also hate and sadness and bitterness. He is tortured and angry. He is strong, and weak. He is human.
Ed McDonald has definitely pulled out all the stops with this book and it lives up to all expectations. This is a book for all fantasy fans and should not be missed.
Sending a huge thanks to Ed McDonald and Stevie at Gollancz for the ARC so that I could read and honestly review this novel.
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 longswords, rapiers and pollaxes.
Book & Buy Links
Series: Ravens Mark #1
Author: Ed McDonald
Genre: Fantasy | Epic Fantasy | Sword & Sorcery | Magic
Publication Date: 27 July 2017
Review Format: Paperback
Other Formats: eBook | Hardcover
Buy: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | Speedy Hen | Wordery