Monday, January 21, 2019

Review: Ravencry by Ed McDonald

Cover of Ravencry by Ed McDonald
Title: Ravencry
Author: Ed McDonald
Pages: 414
ISBN: 9781473222069
Series: The Raven's Mark #2
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 12 June 2018
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

For Ryhalt Galharrow, working for Crowfoot as a Blackwing captain is about as bad as it gets - especially when his orders are garbled, or incoherent, or impossible to carry out.

The Deep Kings are hurling fire from the sky, a ghost in the light known only as the Bright Lady had begun to manifest in visions across the city, and the cult that worship her grasp for power while the city burns around them.

Galharrow may not be able to do much about the cult - or about strange orders from the Nameless - but when Crowfoot's arcane vault is breached and an object of terrible power is stolen, he's propelled into a race against time to recover it. Only to do that, he needs answers, and finding them means travelling into nightmare: to the very heart of the Misery.

Ed McDonald's Blackwing was one of the most impressive debut novels I've read in recent years. I was completely mesmerised by the world and characters and jumped straight into the next installment, Ravencry. I started reading with a sense of trepidation, the bar was set extremely high, and I was afraid that the second novel might be a let-down, but I shouldn't have been worried at all. Ravencry is just as good, if not better.

Set four years after the events of the first novel Galharrow discovers a nightmare hiding below his city. Another player is grasping for ultimate power in the most grotesque way possible and with the Nameless otherwise engaged it's up to him to put a stop to it. On top of everything he also has to deal with a cult, ghost sightings and fiery death hurtling from the sky.

Ravencry takes a far more personal look into Galharrow's life and struggles as he deals with guilt and loss while trying to do the right thing. He bears his physical and emotional scars with a stoic machismo, but underneath his gruff exterior hides a surprisingly compassionate soul. Galharrow keeps everyone around him at arm's length in order to protect himself from pain. A mask that can last only for so long.
"We were both walking casualties, the sutures never quite holding us together." (p 171)
"Never get close if you can help it. When I'd got back I'd send her away." (p 229)
All the familiar characters make an appearance, although their roles are largely on the periphery. Two new characters, Valiya and Amaira, are introduced. Valiya runs the Blackwing offices and she is a true force of nature, fighting her battles with words and papers. Amaira is a young orphan working as Galharrow's servant. You can't help but fall in love with the little rapscallion, and it's the relationship between Galharrow and Amaira that really becomes the driving force in the story.

There are some truly emotional moments that will break your heart. I teared up quite a few times and for me that takes quite some doing.
"I thought that if I keep reading them in the night, then even if I died, I'd be looking at something beautiful. And then maybe I wouldn't be scared." (p 151)
The pacing is slow at times, but once things get going Ravencry becomes an unstoppable, bloody delight. The stakes keep escalating with twists and turns at every corner and the gut-wrenching ending will destroy you. I've still not completely recovered emotionally, but I desperately want to see what wonders Crowfall, the third book, brings!

The Verdict:
It's hard to do Ravencry justice in a review. It's both a touching emotional journey and a bloody, unstoppable delight. The ending will destroy you and leave you wanting more. McDonald has exceeded all my expectations and I can't wait to discover the wonders the third book brings. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great)

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Title: Blackwing
Author: Ed McDonald
Pages: 378
ISBN: 9781473222038
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 27 July 2017
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow's Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer's legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard's paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.

The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall's 'Engine', a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery - a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic's defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic's bluff

Nothing is quite as it seems in this grim, brutal world twisted by magic. Monstrous creatures stalk the land while humanity are the unwitting pawns in a battle between the Nameless and The Deep Kings, ancient magical beings with untold power. Captain Ryhalt Galharrow and his band of bounty hunters are all that stands against annihilation, but will that be enough?

Blackwing throws you into the deep end from the start. There are no lengthy info dumps or explanations, the weird, gritty world unfolds slowly through the eyes and experiences of Galharrow. At first it can be confusing, but as the story progresses things starts to make more sense. The worldbuilding is fascinating and reveals an uncanny depth and history as more detail is revealed.
“The sky was sobbing, long purrs of sharp, cold nightmare as the dawn broke.” (p 75)
Told in the first person, the story follows Galharrow and his band of bounty hunters. All the characters are flawed, scarred by the tragedies in their lives and the blood on their hands. It’s an unforgiving world, and it shows.
“That hopeful boy was gone, dead and buried beneath a tide of stinking bodies and enough black days to darken even our broken sky.” (p 147)
The two female characters, Nenn and Ezabeth, are hard as nails and powerful in their own way. They don’t need to stand aside for their male counterparts and can handle themselves. While Nenn might be a supporting character, she steals the show. I would've loved to see far more of her.
“She glanced out the window, saw the battle gear and joined me dressed in edges.” (p 149)
McDonald’s writing is gripping and fast-paced with some beautiful turns of phrase and keen observations on the human condition. On occasion some of the dialogue could be a bit jarring and since this is a grimdark novel, you have to come prepared for a lot of swearing (and I do mean lots!).
“The world is a cruel mother, a matron of darkness, selfishness, greed and misery. For most, their time suckling at her breast is naught but a scramble through stinging, tearing briars before a naked shameful collapse as the flesh gives out. And yet in the bright eyes of every newborn there lies a spark, a potential for goodness, the possibility of a life worth living. That spark deserves its chance. And though most of them will turn out to be as worthless as the parents who sired them, while the cruelty of the earth will tell them to release their innocence and join in the drawing of daggers, every now and then one manages to clutch to its beauty and refuses to release it into the dark.” (p 260)
The heart-wrenching conclusion comes with an unexpected twist that will leave you reeling. Blackwing is easily one of the most impressive debut novels I’ve read. If you like dark, gritty fantasy then Ed McDonald might just be your next favourite author. I’m hooked!

The Verdict:
Blackwing is a wonderfully, grim and brutal read. The world feels lived-in, the characters are ruthless, scarred by their unforgiving environment, yet they still retain hope even when everything seems to be lost. I loved the blend of magic and technology and the fact that the magic comes at such great cost. The conclusion is heart-wrenching with an unexpected twist that will leave you reeling. A stunning debut by a new rising star in the world of grimdark fantasy. I can’t wait to see what Ed McDonald does next. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7.5 (Very good)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Unbearable Weight of Books

On Saturday, I did something I've been putting off for more than seven months. I don't know what inspired the sudden compulsion to finally tackle the huge undertaking, but somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, as the wind howled outside, I decided that the time had finally come.

A while back I purchased two new bookcases but before I could put them to use some renovations had to be done to the apartment which resulted in them being consigned to storage. I've dreaded the thought of moving them back since space would be a squeeze and it would mean that I would finally have to try to tame the uncontrollable forest of book stacks sprouting up in my room. But I did it. I finally did it!

I moved the new (old) bookcases into the sitting room, it was a tight fit and they are hidden behind a door, but I got them in. Sadly one of the bookcases seems to have been damaged in the move. It's a bit warped, but I fixed it as best with my limited carpentry skills. Luckily it seems to still be fit for purpose.

Empty bookcase in assembly

An exhausting six hours and 264 books later I ended up with something approaching a semblance of order. I decided to convert the bookcase on the right into my review copy/TBR bookcase. This contains all my review copies (except for the lowest shelf which has some horror/crime novels on it). The bookcase on the left contains the overflow from my other bookcases and also houses around 40% of Mount TBR. I didn't attempt to sort them by genre/author since that would've created a huge logistical problem, but I did make a spreadsheet with a catalogue of the contents of each shelf should I need to track down a book quickly.

Bookcases filled with books (top)

This morning when I woke my room felt strangely empty. It took me a minute to realise that it was due to the missing stacks of books. It seems I've grown accustomed to a comforting fort of books surrounding me while I sleep.

One thing I can tell you is that my body resents my life choices. My arms and back ache and I can still feel the weight of every book I carried to and fro. If I didn't love physical books so much I might seriously have considered switching completely over to ebooks. Luckily we aren't there just quite yet.

In the end, aches aside, I have a great sense of accomplishment. Mount TBR looks far better in bookcase form and now I can merrily chisel away at the behemoth until the next shiny new book arrives.

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