This review is based on a complimentary book I received from NetGalley. It is an honest and voluntary review. The complimentary receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.Blackwing by Ed McDonald
Series: Ravens' Mark #1
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Publisher: Ace Books
Format: ARC, E-book
Length: 11 hours and 9 minutes
Purchase at: Amazon ◊ Barnes & Noble ◊ Book Depository ◊ Google Play ◊ Kobo ◊ IndieBound ◊ Audible
Set on the ragged edge of a postapocalyptic frontier, Blackwing is a gritty fantasy debut about a man’s desperate battle to survive his own dark destiny…
Nothing in the Misery lasts…
Under a cracked and wailing sky, the Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, created when the Engine, the most powerful weapon in the world, was unleashed against the immortal Deep Kings. Across the wasteland, teeming with corrupted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies are still watching—and still waiting.
Ryhalt Galharrow is no stranger to the Misery. The bounty hunter journeys to a remote outpost, armed for killing both men and monsters, and searching for a mysterious noblewoman. He finds himself in the middle of a shocking attack by the Deep Kings, one that should not be possible. Only a fearsome show of power from the very woman he is seeking saves him.
Once, long ago, he knew the woman well, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to unmake everything they hold dear and end the fragile peace the Engine has provided. Galharrow is not ready for the truth about the blood he’s spilled and the gods he’s supposed to serve…
Grimdark fiction is a story set in a ruthless world where only the negative qualities of a character come through. There is really no happiness or very little hope for these characters. Noir fiction is where the characters are very tough, cynical, and pessimistic. Blackwing is grimdark noir with a dash of anti-hero.
The setting for Blackwing is in a world that is blighted and deplorable. The Misery is a desolate place with poisoned magic that leaks from the land that is constantly shifting. It was created in an attempt to stop the Deep Kings from destroying everything including the people of Dortmark. The Misery was blasted into existence by Crowfoot, one of the Nameless and a wizard, when he released the Heart of the Void as a last defense in a centuries old war between the Nameless and the Deep Kings. The Misery only delayed the Deep Kings, it was not enough though to turn them back. This led to the Engine being created. The Engine was created by Nall, another Nameless, and put along the edge of the border of the Misery. This Engine was able to destroy a Deep King and it is what led to a stalemate that has lasted eighty years.
No one made it a habit to enter the Misery willingly, it was far too dangerous. With its changing landscape, it is a perilous choice to make and is usually only made by those who are either desperate to avoid capture, overly confident in their abilities, or men who are looking to get paid for finding people with a bounty on their head that have gone into the Misery…because they are desperate. Those who were brave enough or stupid enough to venture into this hellish territory were met with improbable odds and nightmares that they won’t soon forget. If a person was lucky enough to make it out of the Misery they would feel the effects of their time in that expanse through tremors and sickness that lasted as long as their time spent in Misery. Only the most desperate of individuals would ever venture there willingly.
Ryhalt Galharrow was such an individual. He was an alcoholic bounty hunter who earns his coin by hunting individuals who are wanted for one reason or another and he is not cowed by the idea of entering the Misery to get his mark. He knows what awaits him but he also knows that he needs the coin to afford the drink which helps him forget memories that haunt him. Ryhalt is a man with a past and he has truly nothing to live for. The only thing that he has always try to do though is be as honorable as the situation would allo, if he could. By no means was he a “good guy,” more an anti-hero of sorts. Even though he worked as a bounty hunter that was not his full-time occupation as it were. Ryhalt was a Blackwing Captain.
The Blackwing organization was comprised of seven Captains who act as enforcers for Crowfoot, shadowed hands who were his eyes and did his will when called upon. Ryhalt had been approached by the wizard and had struck a deal to be part of the organization a long time ago. Although he only reported to Crowfoot, he needed a way to make money in between assignments and the courts were willing to pay good money for collecting traitors, well their heads at least. This is how Ryhalt filled his time, working as a bounty hunter with a small crew greedy enough to enter the Misery to catch their bounties.
It had been five years since Crowfoot had contacted Ryhalt but on this occasion, he contacted him and gave him an immediate command: to ensure that Ezabeth Tanza survived whatever ordeal she was in. Although at the start he had no idea that the woman he was to save was Ezabeth. Once he got to where he was instructed to find her and learned of her identity he was flabbergasted. He knew Ezabeth from before his world was destroyed. He and Ezabeth has been courting and were to be married before she called off the engagement. Seeing Ezabeth created feelings in Ryhalt that he thought were dead and gone and eventually he knew that whatever happened he wanted a chance with Ezabeth even though he knew the odds were unfavorable. It was this choice that led him and his closest allies on a dangerous journey that involved political machinations, backdoor alliances come to light, and an epic battle where the freedom of the world was at stake.
Blackwing is not a fast read but it is a fascinating one. There is a lot to digest in this world with its development, characters, and history. I really liked that the story was centered around Ryhalt and that the narrative included all things everyday life for this character. It made him and the rest of the characters quite believable. I was thoroughly entranced from the start of this story and by then end I was quite invested in the characters. This was definitely an original read and although the ending had a sweet moment tinged with sadness it left room for so much more to look forward to in the next installment in this series. I definitely recommend Blackwing as a must-read fantasy book!
*Thank you to NetGalley & Berkley Publishing Group for this eARC of Blackwing*
Interview with the Author:
Q. Let’s start with an easy question that everyone wants to know. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Hi! I live in London, England, and I’ve been in love with fantasy fiction since I was a kid. I’m in my mid-thirties now but I’ve never grown out of playing with swords. I studied medieval history for my master’s degree and have always been too scared of my mum’s disapproval to get a tattoo.
Q. How did you break into the publishing world?
I’d written quite a few novels before Blackwing and made some half-hearted attempts to find an agent – but I always knew that they weren’t good enough. With Blackwing I felt that I was onto something better, so I sent out 10 queries. I mostly looked up the agents of authors that I felt my style was similar too, who’d been successful. In the end, Mark Lawrence’s agent was the one that came back to me and took me on.
Q. What was the hardest thing about writing your debut book?
The paradox! Never invent a mathematical paradox as a core part of your story if you don’t want to have sleepless nights. My editor, Gillian, had asked me to clarify some things and I wound up unable to sleep for 3 nights. Got there in the end though!
Absolutely did and definitely something to think about!
Q. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Blackwing?
The final book ended up being nothing like I’d intended. Aside from Galharrow, none of the characters wound up being who they were supposed to be, the location became its own place and so on. I’d always thought of myself as a writer who plans things, and discovered that I did much better by letting myself roam around.
Q. The Misery, the Engine, and the immortal Deep Kings, where did your inspiration come for the world that you developed?
I enjoy themes of power a lot, especially when the dark powers are completely insurmountable. I think that mirrors the feeling we have in modern life when it comes to government – how do you stop a crazy president? Can it even be done? Big businesses seem to be so vast and surrounded by lawyers that they’re untouchable. I think that a lot of fantasy mirrors reality.
Q. Give us an insight into your main character, Ryhalt Galharrow, do you consider him to be an anti-hero?
I think that he has to be called an anti-hero. He’s occasionally heroic, sure, but he’s from a different time and place. Galharrow’s views about violence don’t match up to modern liberal ideals, but then he lives in a never-ending war of attrition and has to deal with monsters, both figurative and literal, on a daily basis. But ultimately, although his methods might seem cruel sometimes, he’s doing what needs to be done because it’s right.
Q. What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your book?
It might sound odd for a book that gets labelled grimdark, but Blackwing is as much love story as it is anything else. I guess I put a lot of myself into the book in this way, and I think that there’s a very hopeful message about determination and refusing to lie down and take the easy root. David Gemmel’s book Legend was very influential – I’d like to hope that readers might be influenced by Blackwing in a similar way.
Q. What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?
I went to Worldcon in August, where in one day I met Robin Hobb and George RR Martin, and had dinner with Joe Abercrombie. Three of my favourite authors that I’ve been reading for 20 years or more. That was a pretty crazy day.
That is pretty AMAZING!!
Q. Something for fun: If you could bring one of your characters to life, who would it be? And why?
It has to be Nenn. She’d end up drinking me under the table and she swears like a trooper but I still have a soft spot for her.
I loved her character, there is so much more to her than meets the eye and I love that you created a noseless character!
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write a lot. Edit a lot. Polish your first fifty pages to a brilliant shine and then get other people to read them before submitting. If your readers aren’t blown away, you need to work on them some more. Work hard and be prepared to compromise if you want to work with a publisher!