Book Review: Blackwing – by Ed McDonald

Raven’s Mark Book #1

Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy

Ace Books; October 3, 2017

360 pages

4.5 / 5 ✪

Certainly not a feel-good fairytale, McDonald provided an beautifully rendered world on the brink, full of flesh and blood characters and terrible gods, with a savage plot and just a hint of magic and mayhem to tie everything together. Wouldn’t touch the bow though—no telling what it’s made out of. Blackwing begins the Raven’s Mark trilogy, a read that’s sure to be a wild ride all the way to the finish.

The war between the Nameless and the Deep Kings has spilled over. Two races of ancient, powerful beings unite—with humanity in the middle. The Deep Kings are immortal and beyond ancient. They play the Drudge, once-humans that have been changed, they are utterly loyal and tough to kill. The Nameless play the side of humanity; these powerful sorcerers occupy the five free cities of man, aided by Nall’s Engine: a weapon so powerful even their adversaries fear it. Eighty years prior the Nameless first activated Nall’s Engine, a move that created “the Misery”—a wasteland of death and demonic creatures, where even the sky often screams in pain—and brought about the end not only of one Deep King, but also two of the remaining free cities of man. Hundreds of thousands died in that moment to protect the little humanity had left. Eighty years later, a temporary and uneasy truce exists—one that may be unraveling before Galharrow’s eyes.

Ryhalt Galharrow is a scarred man with a grim past. Once noble blood, a series of misfortune has landed him in on the front-lines, hunting defectors and spies into the Misery before they can defect to the enemy. Written in 1stP POV I was fairly well entranced with Galharrow’s story. It was dark, gritty, bloody. A clipped and pessimistic tone. His story harbors a dark heart, a path that may lead to madness, and… a burgeoning love story? It was an odd one, for sure. Though it provided interesting twists. I rather liked Galharrow, even if I had trouble relating to him.

The world around Galharrow provided the most unexpected surprise. Deep, thoughtful characters. A lovely, dark setting. A brief, but competent bit of world-building. At first the story keeps everything a bit hectic, but when the pace slows a bit in the latter half, we are allowed to look about and take in the world. Both primary and secondary characters excelled; they felt truly human, flesh and blood, mortal, intricate while delicate. While the characters themselves are McDonald’s greatest triumph, the world itself is no slouch.

An entertaining story combined with intricate characters and a sense of mystery and magic, McDonald’s debut is a triumph for the grimdark genre. While a lackluster love story holds it back from being truly great, Blackwing provides more than enough to satisfy any reader, despite only being about a day’s read (at 360 pp, it took me 3.5 days, but I’m slow). With a clipped tone and a dark heart, Blackwing was all I needed and more. Can’t wait to read the next one.

Ravencry, Raven’s Mark #2, was published in 2018 by Ace Books (in the US) and Gollancz (in the UK).

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