UK Publication Date July 2017, US Anticipated Nov 2017
Page count: 384
Goodreads: See here
Plot at a Glance:
The Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, created when the Engine, the most powerful weapon in the world, was unleashed against the immortal Deep Kings. Across the wasteland, teeming with corrupted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies are still watching—and still waiting.
Ryhalt Galharrow is no stranger to the Misery. The bounty hunter journeys to a remote outpost, armed for killing both men and monsters, searching for a mysterious noblewoman. He finds himself in the middle of a shocking attack by the Deep Kings, one that should not be possible. Only a fearsome show of power from the very woman he is seeking saves him.
Once, long ago, he knew the woman well, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to unmake everything they hold dear and end the fragile peace the Engine has provided.
Every time I step into a new fantasy adventure, I’m like a kid on Christmas morning. There’s something about the prospect of fantasy journeying to so many unexpected places and showing the reader all sorts of new, unexpected and magical things that fuels my love for the genre. So when I saw a number of my friends in the blogging community raving about this fantasy debut, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Thankfully, the Netgalley Gods smiled on me and I was approved for an ARC, because it was calling to me.
Of course, that level of anticipation can sometimes lead to a bit of a let down, but thankfully that wasn’t the case with Blackwing, which has got to be one of the most wildly creative and vividly told fantasies I’ve read so far this year. For a debut novelist, Ed McDonald hits all the right notes and has created a gloriously dark and gritty world fully of characters that will stick with me for quite some time.
I should be clear here though, because when I say dark and gritty, I mean this is seriously dark. Fantasy has a lot of sub-genres within it, and I would definitely classify this as a grimdark tale. Obviously, the explorations of darkness and violence aren’t for everybody, and there’s no shortage of swearing coming from the characters and Ryhalt’s first-person narrative voice. So if those things aren’t your cup of tea, you might be best served giving this a pass. But, for those of you like me, who enjoy their fantasy best served cold, with danger lurking in the shadows, this book absolutely needs to be on your list of books to read!
One of my favorite aspects of Blackwing had to be the world. When I opened it up and saw that there was no map included with the eARC I received, I was a little dismayed as that sometimes feels indicative to me of a fantasy product that not much thought went into. Thankfully, that’s not the case here, as the Misery is a constantly shifting hellscape so the details of where the few remaining settlements surrounding it are the only thing of any real import to the story.
One thing I really loved about the setting is that McDonald pushes away the typical sword and shield warfare present in most fantasy. Instead, he infuses an industrial sort of setting with the apocalyptic aspects of Mad Max. There’s guns and powder and magically infused electric lighting in this world, and it feels fresh and full of lively little details – a surprising plus for a book centered around the last remnants of a dying world.
The Misery reminded me of a grown up version of the Unsea, from Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone series. It’s a magical construct that has twisted and divided the land – and what remains within it is diabolical and hungry for human flesh. The entire concept of the Misery, the creatures within it, and the Deep Kings who control it was fascinating.McDonald drops pertinent historical facts about the Misery throughout the narrative, without falling into the trap of infodumping. There’s enough to stoke my interest, but the plot keeps chugging along as the facts get dropped.
Magic in this world was another positive. I love a strongly developed magical system with clear rules and the occasional drawback for its users. While the moon provides the power to the “Spinners” of its light in this story, they are also subject to its extreme consequences along the way. It made using it and trying to activate it under certain conditions (such as a lack of light) dangerous and that makes the storytelling compelling.
As for aspects that dragged down my score, I had only two.The first thing I found frustrating was prolific use of the dreaded “F” word in dialogue and narrative voice. I actually don’t mind swears – but it felt like it was trying a bit hard to impart the seriousness of the situation characters found themselves in, when I thought the situation itself was enough to deliver that message. I think with a stronger focus on the tension and dread that McDonald does so well at, later additions to the series can only improve.
Secondly, of the side characters, a fair chunk of them were pretty flat. Ryhalt, Ezabeth and Nenn were definitely the strongest of the bunch. I only hope that we get some expanded backstories for the other characters in the world in later books, especially for the more creative and powerful entities in the world – such as the Deep King, and Crowfoot, the creature to which Ryhalt is indebted to.
Regardless, those are only two small complaints in the midst of a sea of positives. Blackwing was a wonderfully creative and deliciously dark fantasy debut. Reader beware, you’re in for quite the adventure!
🌟🌟🌟🌟 = 4/5 stars!
Many thanks to Netgalley, Ed McDonald and Berkley Publishing Group for approving my request!
Have you read this book? What did you think? Are you as much a fan of dark fantasy tales as I am?