I found The Raven’s Mark trilogy by Ed McDonald to be an enthralling and expertly rendered tale, possibly the high watermark in grimdark fantasy fiction. McDonald is a vastly gifted author; as I was reading, I almost wore out the highlighter function on my Kindle. There were so many compelling quotes that could be lifted from the text. I could imagine them posterized and framed, plastered to the walls of homes, workplaces, pubs; some perhaps even more suited to bathrooms. The world building is intricate, well-composed, and original, the characters soulful and human in all their gristly faults. The plot is gripping from beginning to end, and the stakes could not be higher—for the world and, perhaps more importantly, for the characters themselves.
Who are you, you ask? Never heard of me, you say?Well, I'm here now. You're here now. And you're here to read about books you want to read. Let's call ourselves acquainted and move on to the good stuff. And let me assure you, gentle reader, Crowfall by Ed McDonald IS the good stuff.
Crowfall is the third book in the Raven’s Mark Series. Although I have not done full reviews on Blackwing and Ravencry, you should know how much I enjoyed the first two books. Blackwing was very good. Ravencry blew my mind. Needless to say, I had lofty expectations for Crowfall. It was my most anticipated book of 2019. So the question remains: How did it hold up?
Well...first let's talk about what Crowfall is about.
Crowfall (and the Raven’s Mark Series so far) follows the journey of Ryhalt Galharrow, ex-sophisticated soldier turned merc turned agent for an ancient maniacal crow wizard. Upon his forearm is a tattooed raven that on occasion rips itself free from his arm to deliver his master’s instructions. Comedy ensues. Sorry. Misery ensues.
The Misery is a magically corrupted wasteland where Ryhalt finds himself all the time over the course of the books. In fact, in the six years since the end of Ravencry, MFer has just been subsisting on Misery stuff, eating the monsters, and sucking in all that magical filth to right the wrongs of the previous two books. Become the Anvil, as his arm states. To make matters worse, Crowfoot (his mystic master and creator of the Misery) has unleashed a new fresh hell on the humans living in the Range in the form of insanity rain. Imagine acid rain…like LSD rain…that makes you trip balls and die. On top of that, our old pals the eldritch god-like Deep Kings have tapped into the power of The Sleeper, an even more terrifying and ancient eldritch god and raised a spirits-damned Deep Emperor. Not a great time to be a human. Galharrow (with the help of his compatriots) works to stave off humanity’s destruction while haunted by the ghosts of his past, the hope of his future, and the turmoil of his present. Bleak times all around.
So…How did it hold up?
Even with Ravencry right up until the end. Crowfall’s ending sets it just above Ravencry in my estimation. Which is quite a feat. Because I was SO looking forward to this book, I was prepared to be let down. I shouldn’t have worried.
McDonald manages to work a substantial amount of worldbuilding into his third entry so that a number of the history questions I had were answered. Not all of them. This world feels ancient, and she hides her secrets well. I hope to learn more about her someday.
McDonald’s writing (in Ryhalt’s voice) continues strong throughout, and the philosophical journey the reader takes with Ryhalt over the series is impressive. From cranky man with a deathwish to cranky man with a…lifewish? That’s a thing, right? There is more than enough to convey the story without ever feeling bogged down while painting a grim portrait framed with hope. It’s a large reason I’ll continue coming back to these books in the future. Even when everything seems lost, grim and dark, you believe in Ryhalt. You want him to succeed. He want him to earn his ending.
Spoiler: He does.
Crowfall is a stunning conclusion to the Raven’s Mark trilogy, and for my money the best of the three. McDonald never lets misery leech all of the hope from his audience, and the result is a story that is visceral while also philosophical, unique in setting, and bold in presentation. McDonald never lets his reader sink deeper than his protagonist, and he is always ready to offer a hand through the supporting cast.
The Raven's Mark Trilogy is not only worth your time, but I think is worth repeat visits. I know this won't be my last ride into the Misery.