Book Review: Crowfall – by Ed McDonald

Raven’s Mark #3

Grimheart, Epic, Fantasy

Ace; July 2, 2019 (US)

416 pages (ebook)

5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both NetGalley and Ace Books. All opinions are my own.

WARNING SPOILERS: The following contains spoilers for the previous Raven’s Mark novels!

Ravencry ends with Saravor thwarted, Nenn slain, and Ryhalt staring out over the Misery. Crowfall opens with Galharrow hunting drudge. The Deep Kings (shockingly) didn’t abandon their plans to overthrow the Range following Saravor’s defeat atop the Valengrad spire. They had since evolved a new breed of servants; drudge that are blue in pallor and cast, noseless, featureless, they retain very little of their former humanity. He has recently come across quite a few of their number and left their bodies broken in the wasteland.Crowfall opens with Galharrow hunting drudge. The Deep Kings (shockingly) didn’t abandon their plans to overthrow the Range following Saravor’s defeat atop the Valengrad spire. They had since evolved a new breed of servants; drudge that are blue in pallor and cast, noseless, featureless, they retain very little of their former humanity. He has recently come across quite a few of their number and left their bodies broken in the wasteland.

Since the events of Ravencry, Galharrow has made a home for himself in the Misery, leaving his old life behind. In return, the Misery has grown within him, changed him. In many ways, he is no longer the man he once was. And, alike the drudge, he seems to retain little of his former humanity. But a trip back to the Range proves that he still is—while reminding Ryhalt of the life he left behind him.

For not only the Deep Kings have been restless since the Crowfall—a “sorcerous cataclysm” that had occurred three years prior, very reminiscent of the strike that once created the Misery itself—the Nameless are moving as well. And events have somehow become even more dire.

But something more moves in the dark. Something the likes of which Galharrow has never seen, and it will take all his strength and cunning to deal with this new threat, while not sacrificing the last shred of his humanity in the process.

It’s humanity’s last stand—an epic conclusion to an epic series.

Crowfall really is epic, and brilliant.

What starts with a changed Galharrow kicking about the wasteland, soon returns to the Range itself, in a scenic tour around humanity’s last bastion of the continent. Old friends, old enemies join the fray, which is peppered with gods and mortals both, each with their own agenda. Crowfall incorporates much of the past two adventures with fresh content: places, people, monsters, things. It’s a pleasant mix of past and present, without leaning too heavily on either.

Galharrow’s personal story is a bit of a quagmire of emotion. It’s a bit of a convoluted mess—quite like real life, in fact. I guess that’s why McDonald didn’t like the term ‘Grimdark’ applied to his work and instead coined the term ‘Grimheart’ for it. Much of the book—inhuman monsters and immensely powerful magic and gods aside—explores a very real world, with very real emotion. Ryhalt’s passage through the story is but one of many, something the book does rather well at relating. That McDonald managed to pull this off is impressive, especially when writing with a 1st person POV. And yet, at times Galharrow’s story sometimes interferes with the mood of the overarching plot. Its feeling. It’s not that his journey is at odds with the plot, it’s just that occasionally one might distract from the other. I found it a bit of a stutter at the time, but no more. Crowfall races along quite nicely once it gets going, with only this slight impediment to the pace.

There’s a real sense of desperation in the story, one that’s only built upon by the past desperations of the previous two books. I really enjoyed the book, the story it told, the lasting mood that it imparts. Galharrow takes some surprising steps—some that may seem contradictory, ablative, yet rarely out of character—to achieve his ends. It all feels very human, raw and emotional, to an extent I didn’t expect. Blackwing was a great book, Ravencry almost as good—but Crowfall was an experience for me, a journey I won’t soon forget. Now, everyone will have their own reaction to the story, but really, if you enjoyed the first two, you’ll enjoy the third.

Crowfall is much more than the end of a series, it’s the creation of something new. McDonald has expressed a desire to return to the world—and while Galharrow’s own story seems pretty much wrapped up by the end of the book—the sheer amount of half-rendered lore and untold stories of war, toil, and survival certainly give him a multitude of places, and times, to begin anew.

Crowfall comes out July 2nd in the US, and will be published by Gollancz in the UK June 27.

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.