Ravens' Mark #1
by Ed McDonald
Published on October 3, 2017 by Ace
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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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…
I went into this book wanting to love it but with the expectation that it would disappoint me because that’s how reading has gone for me lately. Perhaps not the best mindset to have before starting but it did set me up to be pleasantly surprised when I became hooked from the first page.
My second grimdark fantasy of the year (see my rave review for The Court of Broken Knives if you’re looking for another), Blackwing follows Ryhalt Galharrow, a bounty hunter and captain for one of the Nameless (which is a god but also not). Not going to lie, the setting is pretty depressing. We have the Misery which is a giant wasteland filled with creatures that are never quite fully described but are a horror nonetheless. Enter mystery woman from his past who packs a serious magical punch, mix in a bit of conspiracy and danger, and you get quite the interesting read.
My first impression was a dark magical western so if that’s your thing then you’ll probably like this book. Galharrow is neither a hero nor is he a villain. He’s not particularly nice but he’s honest. He sees the world for the corrupt place it is and doesn’t sugarcoat the truth. I found him terribly intriguing. At first he’s just the gruff bounty hunter, but he’s smart, he’s fiercely loyal to his companions, cynical but with the dry humor I love to read, and just all-around very well written. I can’t say the same for all the characters featured, especially some of the secondary characters which came across more as names on the page than actual people, but the primary characters were pretty multi-dimensional.
Where I started feeling a bit disconnected was about the 100-page mark. This book’s pacing is a bit unusual. Some parts flew by while others dragged. Then there’s the issue with the worldbuilding. It’s a very steampunk-y read with the higher fantasy coming through with the unusual creatures, but those beings never felt fleshed out enough for me to really fear them as the characters did so they didn’t make as much of an impact.
But I really got behind the steampunk/more industrial-esque world. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good swords-and-shields fantasy but they start to blend together after a while whereas this world of magic and guns and unusual technology makes Blackwing stick in my head. It’s a world I could definitely see myself returning to in the sequel (and, in fact, I likely will).
This was a surprising read and a series that I’ll definitely be following up on when the sequel releases. If you’re looking for a gritty fantasy with a Western vibe and a protagonist that’s neither hero nor villain, I think you’ll like this book and definitely recommend checking it out. Looking forward to the next book!