Despite certain flaws, I felt that Ed McDonald's Blackwing was a promising debut. The kind of work Joe Abercrombie and Glen Cook would come up with if they ever teamed up to collaborate on a novel. And even though the second volume showed marked improvement regarding certain facets, it did suffer from some of the same shortcomings that had plagued its predecessor. In my review of Ravencry, I opined that the author needed to elevate his game if he was to finish this trilogy with panache and if he wanted to take his place among the best grimdark writers out there.

And though Crowfall isn't perfect, I feel that McDonald stepped up to the plate and delivered a compelling finale. The talent and the potential were definitely there and it was up to the author to bring it on. Which he did!

Here's the blurb:

In the third gritty installment of the Raven’s Mark series, Blackwing Captain Ryhalt Galharrow finds that all power comes with a price…

A sorcerous cataclysm has hit the Range, the final defensive line between the republic and the immortal Deep Kings.

Tormenting red rains sweep the land, new monstrosities feed on fear in the darkness, and the power of the Nameless, the gods who protect the republic, lies broken. The Blackwing captains who serve them are being picked off one by one, and even immortals have learned what it means to die. Meanwhile, the Deep Kings have only grown stronger, and they are poised to deliver a blow that will finally end the war.

Ryhalt Galharrow stands apart from it all.

He has been deeper into the wasteland known as the Misery than ever before. It has grown within him–changed him–and now the ghosts of his past, formerly confined to the Misery, walk with him everywhere.

They will even follow him–and the few surviving Blackwing captains–on one final mission into the darkness.

Although McDonald doesn't divulge as much information as I would have liked, the worldbuilding was once again my favorite aspect of this book. As mentioned in my previous reviews, I love the concept behind the Misery, a dangerous post-apocalyptic wasteland where reality itself unraveled when a magical weapon detonated. In Ravencry, the author took Galharrow to the very heart of it. All the way to the Endless Devoid, the epicenter of the Misery. The place where the Heart of the Void created a fault line in existence. And the Misery's taint changed Galharrow in a profound way. More than we saw in that novel, I believed. And I was right. By the beginning of Crowfall, the Blackwing captain has spent the better part of six years living in isolation and traveling the length and breadth of the Misery. The man is part of it and the Misery is now part of him as well.

Since reviewing the first installment, I've bemoaned the fact that Ed McDonald came up with lots of interesting concepts and ideas, yet he continues to play his cards very close to his chest and does not elaborate a whole lot on them. Thankfully, he wasn't as parsimonious regarding information in the second volume. He didn't reveal much, mind you, but we did learn more about Crowfoot and the other Nameless, the Deep Kings and their objective, and more. We finally discovered some things about the world at large, and the conflict that opposes the Nameless and the Deep Kings. Still, nothing that explained why what is occurring at what appears to be the ass end of the world was of capital importance. For better or worse, Crowfall continues in the same vein. We are taken on a magical journey to another continent across the ocean and we witness the Heart of the Void being deployed all those years ago, but for the most part the back story remains shrouded in mystery.

As a matter of course, Crowfall features the first person narrative of Captain Ryhalt Galharrow. As I said in my other reviews, as battle-hardened veteran whose past nearly unmade him, his perspective once again made for a captivating read. One the one hand, he remains a kick-ass, no-nonsense kind of officer, so not always the most likable of fellows. But on the other, he is also a broken man who continues to drink himself into a stupor so he won't dream about his past and fall from grace. It took me a while to get used to his idiosyncrasies, but now it's impossible for me not to root for the poor guy. McDonald made an effort to humanize Galharrow in Ravencry and this is paying dividends in Crowfall. Bringing himself to care for other people is not easy for the main protagonist, for it makes him vulnerable. That vulnerability is once more in evidence in this third installment and Galharrow shows yet more character growth. I don't want to spoil anything, so suffice it to say that the supporting cast consists of a number of familiar faces, some of them surprising while others were expected. By now it is obvious that Ed McDonald has a knack for creating engaging protagonists, which serves him well in this final volume.

And now that the Deep Kings have an Emperor and their forces are on the march to end this war once and for all and there's little the Nameless can do about it, the proverbial shit is about to hit the fan and an all but powerless Crowfoot sends Galharrow on one last mission to try to save mankind. But it is unclear whether or not the Nameless wish to unveil another weapon akin to the Heart of the Void and which could rend the world asunder, or if something more sinister is afoot. Meanwhile, Ryhalt Galharrow and his allies have their own plan, but they may not live long enough to see it through.

Both Blackwing and Ravencry suffered from an uneven pace. At times, the rhythm could be quite sluggish, and then it was balls-to-the-wall action. These pacing issues didn't take much away from the overall reading experience, but they could be off-putting. Not so with Crowfall, however. The rhythm remains fluid enough throughout the novel and the pace is never a problem. And once again, Ed McDonald closes the show with style. As was the case in the second volume, the endgame was thrilling and led to a rousing finale which packed a surprisingly powerful emotional punch. McDonald would like us to believe that he's this badass sword-wielding grimdark writer, but deep down he's probably just a hopeless romantic.

McDonald now has three quality grimdark yarns under his belt. Which bodes well for whatever comes next. There have been glimpses of a bigger, more ambitious story arc in all three installments of the Raven's Mark trilogy, yet the author seemed satisfied with offering readers just a few tantalizing hints about it. I have a feeling that he simply needs to up his game a little more.

Ed McDonald has the potential to be the next Joe Abercrombie. Let us hope that like Abercrombie, having written an gripping trilogy will give him the confidence to push the envelope a little further and elevate his writing to another level. Time will tell if he can do that. . .

The final verdict: 7.75/10

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

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