Book Review: Blackwing (The Raven's Mark Book 1) by Ed McDonald (published by Gollancz)
This epic fantasy has received glowing reviews and is a big contender for ‘best fantasy book of 2017’. And rightly so, because it is a great read. Captain Ryhalt Galharrow is an older, experienced, battle-scarred soldier employed to hunt down spies and traitors, who invariably run into The Misery. This is the name for the wasteland that lies right outside the city walls, which was the site of a huge battle between the Republic and the evil Deep Kings. The magic wrought during that war – and the powerful weapon used – blasted, twisted, and generally screwed up the area, but also drove back the Deep Kings. For many years, these Deep Kings have been reluctant to attack again for fear of this weapon.
There are odd, dangerous creatures in The Misery, once human or animal, but now turned to something else entirely and the book opens with Galharrow and his crew of questionable fighters hunting a traitor in these wastelands. Galharrow, under the direction of a Nameless God, is directed to a lookout station, one which houses a part of the weapon – Nall’s Engine – only to discover that perhaps it’s not in the working condition it should be… and the Deep Kings have got wind of this… and are coming. Eeek.
There was so much I loved about this book. Firstly, the weird creatures out in The Misery. There are Darlings who look like children but are super powerful sorcerers with adult voices who throw out mind-worms that burrow into brains and make the person do their bidding. There are Gillings that know and say only six completely random phrases and have anaesthetic in their teeth so if they bite you when you’re asleep they eat you alive as you’re numb to the pain. As well as lots of other bizarre things. And the strange creatures that have found their way into the city and work as spies for the Deep Kings – the Brides that poison people’s minds with sex and grow fatter the more sex slaves they ensnare.
Secondly, I felt the characters were so well crafted, had detailed back stories and wholly believable actions. I liked Ezabeth Tanza, Nenn, Tnota and Dantry. And some of the secondary characters such as Prince Herono and Venzer were brilliantly realised. I didn’t quite bond with Galharrow, but nevertheless enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes.
And thirdly, the writing was excellent. Vivid descriptions that brought the setting and action to life. The highly detailed fight scenes were intense. There was one passage where two wizards are doing battle inside Galharrow’s mind that really stood out for me. This is so well described that I could picture what Galharrow must be seeing – or more specifically experiencing in his body. He is abstractly wandering through someone else’s memories and this was so well done that I immediately went back to reread it a second time (which I rarely do!).
So why did I not score this book higher? Galharrow’s frequent (and repetitive) melancholy musings, “I’m a worthless drunk”, “I feel guilty about my kids”, “I’ve done some bad things in my past”, “unrequited love boo hoo” dragged big time for me and I found myself skimming those woe-is-me internal monologues, of which there were quite a few. But otherwise, this was an enjoyable read, one I recommend for fantasy fans.
My rating: 3.5/5
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