Blackwing. Book Review

BLACKWING by Ed McDonald
Gollancz. h/b. 384pp. £12.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins

Three days into the Misery and they still have not caught up to the sympathisers they chase. The Misery is dangerous enough for a group of armed, highly trained soldiers, so how did two unarmed, untrained civilians managed to stay alive and ahead of Captain Galharrow and his troops? But there are worse things to be found in the Misery than a lack of water, dust and a dead forest. A tiny footstep. Dead prey. It is time to get out.

That is until the Raven breaks the surface of Galharrow’s skin to deliver a message. Station Twelve is their destination now – definitely not the fastest way to get out of the Misery. But Galharrow is a Blackwing and a message of that kind is not to be ignored. Someone from his distant past needs help but it will force the captain to face more than his past. All of their futures hang in the balance now.

Only the Engine and the Range Stations provide protection from the Deep Kings. Those who keep them powered pay with their lives and their minds, but there is a terrible secret waiting to be uncovered and a larger plan that as yet remains unseen.

Blackwing is hailed as the year’s “biggest fantasy debut” and the advance copy has been teasing social media with its eye-catching, black-edged pages. It is all too easy sometimes to get wrapped up in the hype and focus on comparing a new book to those of our favourite writers of contemporary fantasy rather than concentrating on what it delivers in itself. It is true that this book does have a lot in common with the grimdark worlds and damaged characters of Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie respectively, but Blackwing is by no means a follower or homage.

McDonald brings us an expertly conceived world, populated with antagonists so skin-crawlingly disturbing in their horror and mystery that from very early on we are immersed in something entirely new, and something that promises to elude us throughout several volumes of the Raven’s Mark series.

Galharrow himself is a lead character of determination and strength in the face of impossible trials, torture and orders from the Raven, but the author takes great pains to ground him and assure the reader that he is just a man like any other, with desires, flaws and regrets. With the whole narrative related from his point of view, the reader takes an action-filled rampage through defence to attack, from injury to sorcery, faith to naivety and reality in what truly is a phenomenal start to a unique new series.