Book Review: Ravencry – by Ed McDonald

I really quite like the covers in this trilogy

Raven’s Mark #2

Grimheart, Epic, Fantasy

Ace; August 21, 2018

370 pages

4 / 5 ✪

Ravencry is the sophomore effort of British author Ed McDonald, sequel to 2017’s Blackwing, as well as the second novel in the Raven’s Mark trilogy. I came into it fresh off reading the first, and hearing a lot of high praise about its improvements. Since I loved Blackwing, I was definitely excited. And yet, I myself wouldn’t say that Ravencry does too much different, or better, than its predecessor. Certainly it seems more hammered and polished; the language used, the loose ends tied up, the writing style itself all account to the author’s ability to write. Indeed, he’s done this before. But when we come upon the story, the character development, the mystery and plot—none seem any better than the original. To me, at least.

Four years have passed. Ryhalt Galharrow has changed little. Protagonist of Blackwing, the Blackwing captain still mourns the loss of Ezabeth Tanza, his would-be paramour. Since then, he has come up in the world, albeit grudgingly. He still consorts with all ill-mannered types, regularly visits the same bars and haunts, drinks enough to give an elephant kidney failure, routinely slogs through muck, sewage and mud. He owns a mansion, but never uses it. Instead, Galharrow sleeps in his office; perpetually at work.

Neither does he venture into the Misery. Following the loss of Tnota’s arm, the navigator’s will to navigate seems to have evaporated. After the successful defense of Valengrad, Nenn was made a general (though she has come down from there—punching her superiors seems to be to blame), and so lives the high life in the city. Without his crew, without the need, Galharrow appears to content to remain in Valengrad, wallowing in his own personal misery.

The trouble starts when Galharrow kills a dead man. Re-kills, I guess.

Shortly after, a message from Crowfoot kicks Galharrow into action. Shavada’s Eye—the only piece remaining of the former Deep King save his heart—has been stolen from Crowfoot’s vault. And it falls to Galharrow to find and recover it.

There are new characters: a love interest for Ryhalt that never quite feels legit; a page that somehow replaces the children he lost; an acquaintance from long ago; and a special guest appearance by… Ezabeth Tanza?

What follows is an intriguing tale, albeit one without the same latent mystery found in Blackwing. But more adventure, more lore, more interaction with the Deep Kings, the Misery and the Woman in the Light—believed to be Tanza, come back to save the people of Valengrad. Everything bears an undertone of something more, someone else; Saravor—the cutter Galharrow took Nenn to in the first book—and his quest for power. But after the first hundred or so pages we know all this, or at least pieces of it. And it’s way too easy to connect these pieces. The mystery isn’t as deep, as entertaining, as interesting as it was before.

The Misery adds an intriguing twist partway through, as we catch a glimpse of it far greater than any we’d had before. But this feels like more of an addendum than a plot-point. Maybe it’s setting up something for Crowfall, but in this story it acts more as a distraction (albeit an entertaining one).

The one part of Ravencry (two if you count the Misery tangent) that I preferred to Blackwing was Galharrow’s character progression. His growth, development, his humanity. And Galharrow shows quite a bit of humanity in this entry, much more than before. Then, he felt like a man of flesh, blood, sorcery and steel, whereas now it has been reduced to flesh and blood with more than a little liquor thrown in. I found Ryhalt more relatable this time around, somehow more real.

Despite the fact that I’ve been negatively comparing it to Blackwing, Ravencry is quite a good read. It fills in more of the world than the reader had been privy to before, including the Drudge, the Kings, and the Misery itself. Much of it’s lore, but some seems actually relevant to the plot. While the new potential love interest never materializes into anything approaching Ezabeth, it was Galharrow’s obsession with her (Tanza) and the love they had lost, that dominates the story. It makes him seem like so much more, and less, than he’d be without her. And without that hope, that obsession, perhaps his entire life would fall apart. But you’ll have to read it to see.

I can only wonder what the future will bring. Will it be better, or worse? Will the trilogy conclude on a happy note, a sad one, or will it be both of them and yet neither? Only way to know is to read it. Crowfall—the final book in the Raven’s Mark trilogy—comes out July 2 in the US and June 13 in the UK.

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