Blackwing showed up in my mailbox a few weeks back in an unexpected package from the folks at Ace, and which also included the just-released sequel, Ravencry. It may not speak well of me, but up until that point I had never heard of Ed McDonald. The blurb immediately intrigued me, so I elected to give the book a shot.

And I'm sure glad I did, for Blackwing definitely has an Abercrombie vibe to it. Not as far as the plot is concerned, but in style and tone. If Joe Abercrombie and Glen Cook ever teamed up to collaborate on something, I have a feeling that the result would be something akin to this novel.

Here's the blurb:

Set on a postapocalyptic frontier, Blackwing is a gritty fantasy debut about a man’s desperate battle to survive his own dark destiny…

Hope, reason, humanity: the Misery breaks them all.

Under its cracked and wailing sky, the Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, the arcane remnant of a devastating war with the immortals known as the Deep Kings. The war ended nearly a century ago, and the enemy is kept at bay only by the existence of the Engine, a terrible weapon that protects the Misery’s border. Across the corrupted no-man’s-land teeming with twisted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies bide their time. Watching. Waiting.

Bounty hunter Ryhalt Galharrow has breathed Misery dust for twenty bitter years. When he’s ordered to locate a masked noblewoman at a frontier outpost, he finds himself caught in the middle of an attack by the Deep Kings, one that signifies they may no longer fear the Engine. Only a formidable show of power from the very woman he is seeking, Lady Ezabeth Tanza, repels the assault.

Ezabeth is a shadow from Galharrow’s grim past, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to end the fragile peace the Engine has provided. Galharrow is not ready for the truth about the blood he’s spilled or the gods he’s supposed to serve…

The worldbuilding was by far my favorite aspect of this work. I loved the concept behind the Misery, a dangerous post-apocalyptic wasteland where reality itself unraveled when a magical weapon detonated. Ed McDonald came up with lots of interesting concepts and ideas, but unfortunately he played his cards very close to his chest and did not elaborate a whole lot on them. Hence, we learn very little about Crowfoot and the other Nameless, the Deep Kings, the Darlings, and other mutated creatures from the Misery. I wish we could have learned more about all of them, for it would have helped flesh out the world a little more. We discover next to nothing about the world at large, and the bulk of the action occurs in and around the Misery and the city of Valengrad. On a more positive note, McDonald created a magic system based on light/electricity that would make Brandon Sanderson proud. This, at least, was explained at length, so readers understand just how magic works. I'm not sure why the author was so parsimonious with more in-depth information. Every revelation and answer raised yet more questions, so it would have been great if McDonald had been a little more forthcoming in that regard. I mean, you reach the end of Blackwing without really knowing what is truly going on beyond the immediate conflict the protagonists have been thrust into.

Blackwing features the first person narrative of Captain Galharrow. A battle-hardened veteran whose past nearly unmade him, his point of view made for a captivating read. One the one hand, he is a kick-ass, no-nonsense kind of officer, so not always the most likeable of fellows. But on the other, he is also a broken man who drinks himself into a stupor so he won't dream about his past and fall from grace. Hence, he can be a total ass at times and a very insightful man at others. Somehow, the author managed to make it work. It took a while to get used to his idiosyncrasies, but when you do it's impossible not to root for the guy. First person narratives are tricky things, though. And unless Galharrow's perspective appeals to the reader, then it's pretty much game over, I'm afraid. The supporting cast is comprised of a small number of engaging characters, chief among them Tnota, Nenn, Ezabeth Tanza, and Saravor the Fixer. It's too early to tell, but it appears that Ed McDonald has a knack for creating compelling protagonists. Which bodes well for things to come.

The pace can be uneven in certain portions of the book. Sometimes, especially at the beginning when one is unfamiliar with the universe and the characters, the rhythm can be a bit sluggish. At other times, it was balls-to-the-wall action sequences and the reader has no choice but to buckle up and enjoy the ride. When all is said and done, these pacing issues don't take much away from the overall reading experience. The endgame was particularly exciting, and led to a rousing finale that made it impossible for me not to read the second volume ASAP.

Blackwing is a promising debut, to be sure. But one that did not quite live up to the potential it showed early on. It will be interesting to see if Ed McDonald can elevate his game and bring The Raven's Mark series to another level. The talent and the potential are definitely there.

Still, fans of Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and Scott Lynch will undoubtedly find a lot of things to like about this debut. Time will tell if Ed McDonald can make a name for himself and join them among the top grimdark writers out there.

If you are in the mood for a quality grimdark read with an Abercrombie vibe to it, look no further. Blackwing will surely scratch that itch.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

1 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Summer is already half way over and it looks like I have another book to add to my summer reading list, thanks for this recommendation! Parts of your review reminded me of a story I just finished, Fortitude Rising by AM Bochnak. It was fantastic, your heart really goes out to Ebony who has been deceived her whole life by her father. Ebony is my favorite, her character development will keep you turning the pages and her father will literally drive you to drink, he's such an awful bad guy! I found it here