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.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Opening Lines: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Some novels have the ability to draw you in from the start. A single line or paragraph can grab your attention in such a way that the novel just demands to be read. Opening Lines is a feature where I'll share some of the best opening lines that hooked me.

Somebody warned them that we were coming. The sympathisers left nothing behind but an empty apartment and a few volumes of illegal verse. A half-eaten meal, ransacked drawers. They'd scrambled together what little they could carry and fled east into the Misery. Back when I wore a uniform the marshal told me only three kinds of people willingly enter the Misery: the desperate, the stupid and the greedy. The sympathisers were desperate enough.
I gathered a dozen stupid, greedy men and set out to kill them.


Blackwing by Ed McDonald

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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...