My experience most likely differs from a lot of readers but I envisioned Blackwing as something created out of an open world video games with a post-apocalyptic setting reminiscent of Mad Max, with a little touch of the manga ‘Flame of Recca’. The result? Bloody brilliant.
The plot of the book revolves around Ryhalt Galharrow on his journey to survive his dark destiny as a servant to the Nameless, the ruthless ancient beings or maybe even gods of this world. The enemies, The Deep Kings ar held at bay in Misery (a vast and blighted expanse) by a powerful weapon that protects its borders, and Galharrow will soon be thrown into the heat of this resurging war. The pacing of the book is slow paced due to the reason that the plot itself is very heavy with politics and with a lot of world-building, especially during the 20%-50% marks. The political tribulations that the characters faced here more or less lasted around 60-70% of the whole book but there are a lot of thrilling elements in it that made the politics intriguing to read.
Sure there are maybe only around three action sequences throughout Galharrow’s journey in Blackwing but the climax sequences themselves took up the last 20% of the book. All the previous 80% imo was completely just a setup for this section. They’re bloody magical and truly well orchestrated. I should also mention that the plot somehow felt concluded already, like how 'The Lies of Locke Lamora' ended, we know that there will be a continuation to the story but the first book worked greatly as a standalone in my opinion.
The plot alone won't guarantee a great book, and considering that Blackwing is completely told in 1st person view solely through Galharrow’s perspective, it is prominent to have a greatly written main character. Ryhalt Galharrow, the captain of Blackwing, a barely 40 years old bounty hunter that’s also a servant to one of the Nameless, Crowfoot, started out simply as an anti-hero and a long hardened battle veteran. However, and as the story progressed, a lot of backgrounds were revealed seamlessly within the plot. His deeply hidden longing of the past in particular made him easier for the reader to connect with him despite his cold-hearted actions and overall, I love his character development.
“Spirits knew I needed the money. More than I ever had before. But there are promises you make to yourself, vows you place your pride in. Some things are worth the struggle.”
One more thing to mention, the female characters, Ezabeth (which I can’t help but pronounced as Elizabeth) and Nenn are really well written but I’ll let you find out about them yourself. I also can’t wait to find out more about the other Nameless and in particular, Crowfoot, who’s responsible for the creation of Misery during the old/past war with the Deep Kings.
The first thing that came to my head when encountered with a grimdark fantasy book with a post- apocalyptic setting is 'The Broken Empire' by Mark Lawrence (I haven’t read Red Queen’s War yet), it’s in my opinion that Blackwing is better from this aspect, by far. I have huge praises towards the intricacy of the world-building in this genre, it is excellent.
Although the book doesn’t take place in Misery most of the time, it is still an amazing place to dive into. Consisting of fractured skies, multiple moons, shifting landscape, zombiesque and mutant creatures, it truly made Misery one heck of an original place to visit. There is a sense of danger looming everywhere in the world and the post apocalyptic atmosphere worked splendidly in bringing the feeling of despair in the world. I’m reading the ARC edition of this book so I have no idea if there will be an official map or not in the final edition of the book but this world would benefit so much more from one and I truly can’t wait to see it.
I mentioned in the beginning of my review that the book reminded me of the manga/anime ‘Flame of Recca’, this is due to the reason that in the anime, Recca could summon a dragon from the tattoo on his arms. It’s almost the same case here, Crowfoot nestled himself as a tattoo on Galharrow’s arm and could come into existence from there, the difference with Recca is that Galharrow cannot summon him voluntarily, while Recca can but the concept is more or less the same. This is a good thing because 'Flame of Recca' is one of my favorite manga from my teenage years and I'm pleased to see some of the elements there made it into a novel.
Let’s talk a bit about the prose. Ed McDonald’s prose is profound and poetic at times. There are a lot of terminologies here and Ed doesn’t spend any time explaining what they are. This can be confusing at first and usually, this kind of storytelling method tended to bother me but the contexts in the narrative allow me to fully understand the meaning behind the terminologies with ease. To give a sense of how great his prose is, there’s no better way other than a direct quotation from the book. I don’t usually post long quotation in my reviews but I’ll make an exception this time, please, just read this gem and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
“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.”
Despite all the greatness, there are, however some minor cons I had with the book that prevented me from giving this book a full 5 star ratings. First, although the world-building is the best part of the book for me, it also felt a bit repetitive in the first half that it hurts the pacing a bit. I also think that the relationship development between Galharrow and Ezabeth felt a bit ‘forced’ at the last section of the book. Finally, I wish the characters spent more time at Misery, that place is truly amazing and in my opinion, maybe the biggest strength of this book. These are all minor cons and overall and it only affected my enjoyment factor a bit.
To conclude my review, I’m just going to say that I don’t think there’s any reason to not read this book if you’re a fan of grimdark, gritty fantasy or just in the mood for something original in your read. Blackwing will rise with its engrossing tale of conflagration soon, as some of us may know already, 2017 is a great year for adult fantasy debut, and this is precisely one of the book in the list. Highly recommended!
The official release date for Blackwing is 3rd of October in US and 27th of July in UK.