What sets this series apart from other works in this genre is its romantic nature. As gritty and bleak a world as any, The Raven’s Mark still manages to accomplish what no other grimdark fantasy series has been able to do: it captured my heart. I was so invested in the characters, their struggles, their passions, their failures, and their pain. I found myself alternating between rooting for them, fearing for them, and crying for them. The romantic elements of the plot extend far beyond simple romance to romanticism—something I never thought to find in a grimdark novel. Or, perhaps more correctly, a subversion of romanticism, emphasizing man’s response to the corruption of the sublime. This series does an excellent job of embracing each of the seven types of conflict in literature.
The story follows Ryhalt Galharrow, a man who has been broken on the wheel of failure and loss, and yet still manages to maintain a tarnished sense of heroism. He is the captain of Crowfoot, one of the Nameless, a powerful wizard who is so close to being a god that the difference is in the semantics. In order to defend the lands of men from the threat of the Deep Kings, Crowfoot set off a weapon called the Heart of the Void, which destroyed an enormous area, warping it—and everything inside it—into the Misery, a tortured corruption of all that is natural and wholesome. And Crowfoot’s atrocity was only a setback to the Deep Kings, who are now once again marshalling the Misery’s distorted and toxic creatures in preparation to defeat the lands of men. Galharrow, as one of Crowfoot’s Blackwing captains, finds himself on the front lines of the struggle. His companions are likewise flawed but ever-faithful: the compassionate Tnota, the crass and yet capable Nenn, the strange and intriguing Maldon, and Valiya, who is relentless in her love and support. I especially loved Ezabeth Tanza, who is a fascinating character: burned by her own magic, her outward scars echoing Ryhalt’s internal scars.
I can highly recommend The Raven’s Mark series to any reader of fantasy who prefers real, human characters replete with flaws, battle scenes that are true to themselves and the very nature of battle, and a world just as tortured as the souls who inhabit it. I can easily say The Raven’s Mark is one of my top five favorite series of all time.