A blend of fantasy, horror and science fiction, it gave me strong vibes of Stephen King, albeit way more accessible in that it was less mind-bending with a fluid prose that was easy to appreciate, though no less poetic when it needs to be.
The story follows the first person perspective of Ryhalt Galharrow, a Blackwing Captain who is a bounty-hunter of sorts whose life is inextricably linked to one of the Nameless, powerful ancient beings constantly in battle with the Deep Kings, whom are even more omnipotent. A wearied, hardened and frustrated man who is given to inebriation, Ryhalt’s characterisation practically bleeds grief and regret through an intimate window granted into his thoughts and emotions. The author quite masterfully weaved the current narrative together with his backstory which gradually revealed in all its poignancy of the circumstances that shaped him into the embittered man that he is now.
From the moment we’re born, the sands of our lives are draining through the hourglass. Living is the biggest steal we ever make, but nobody gets away with it.
His close bonds with his loyal crew members, Nenn and Tnota, as well as his relationship with the noble and talented Lady Ezabeth provided many heartfelt moments that kept on nudging my investment into these characters further and further up the “Don’t you dare die on me” meter.
I would describe the worldbuilding of this post-apocalyptic setting as a strange yet almost intoxicating blend of steampunk, technology, swords and sorcery that I’ve never seen before. Perhaps The Dark Tower by Stephen King might come close but as I’ve yet to read that series, I cannot make any comparisons.
Aspects of horror can be found in the Misery, a vast tainted wasteland that was scorched by the magic unleashed by one of the Nameless almost a century ago. An expansive no man’s land that divides the Dhojaran Empire of the Deep Kings from the Range where the humans lived under the protection of a weapon created by the Nameless. Deep magic still blankets the land till today, transforming all that lived there into a perversion of nature and no man or creature can venture into the Misery without feeling its effects. With shifting landscapes, a cracked sky, ghostly apparitions, grass that can cut one’s legs to shreds, man-eating creatures uttering strange sentences, the Misery is possibly my favourite worldbuilding element in this book.
What else gave me horror vibes in this fantasy tale? It is when the appearance of a little boy sends shivers down my spine. Creepy murderous children; the very idea of the face of innocence being perverted into an incarnation of evil is one of the most frightening and disturbing concepts in my imagination. Cue: Stephen King's Children of the Corn.
Aside from compelling characters and its fascinating setting, the plot was both engrossing and unpredictable. Sure there were instances where I had suspicions or speculations which turned out to be quite accurate. However, the manifestation of the revelation turned out to be completely unexpected and even brilliant at times.
The pacing of the book was a bit uneven due to quite a fair bit of exposition and info-dumping required at the beginning to help the reader understand the world. I had to admit that the first few chapters didn’t sit entirely well with me as I was bombarded with all kinds of capitalised terms which bear no meaning nor context to what I was reading. I’d advise patience as this gets resolved fairly quickly and the narrative flows well enough to keep the pages turning. When it matters the most, the climax of the story was very well-paced and I appreciated that the author took the time to draw out the ending sufficiently to a satisfying conclusion.
It has been widely acknowledged that 2017 will see many great and promising fantasy debuts, and from what I’ve just read, Blackwing might just be one of the top reads. I do highly recommend this book. If you have apprehensions that this is the first of a series, I will allay that by saying it reads well as a stand-alone. A point to note for readers who prefer to avoid strong language though, as Blackwing does contain a fair amount of profanity.
The official release date for Blackwing is 3rd of October in US and 27th of July in UK.