Blackwing, Ed McDonald – Book Review

Hello humans! Today’s review is for Blackwing, fun fact, I was actually at the launch for this book at YALC last year, there were cupcakes, it was awesome. Almost a year on and I actually bought and read the book so maybe the cupcakes influenced me somehow? This is actually another two-part review series, I’ll be following up on this review with a review of the sequel Ravencry so stay tuned for that!

blackwing ed mcdonald

Goodreads Summary:

The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow’s Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard’s paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.

The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall’s ‘Engine’, a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery – a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic’s defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic’s bluff.

Find Blackwing on Goodreads

This book has quite a few different elements within it that boil down to a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel. The story takes place in a setting ravaged by the result of a magical war, which created a large portion of uninhabitable land filled with all kinds of monsters, known by the people who live in the kingdom as ‘The Misery’. I thought that this was an interesting setting, not entirely unique as I feel like quite a few post-apocalyptic settings rely on an uninhabitable landscape. What I did like was the fantasy element, the idea that magic caused this problem as opposed to ‘normal’ warfare.

In terms of worldbuilding, the geography was definitely there, especially since this is a setting that is supposed to defy navigation. Where I felt the worldbuilding was a little lacking was in the magic system. I thought the exploration of ‘the nameless’ who are sometimes set up as all-powerful immortals and other times just seem to be powerful assholes and then there are ordinary people who wield various kinds of magic, then you have ‘spinners’ who weave light into a kind of power source. These, while all of them were cool and interesting concepts, felt a little disparate to me, it was hard to see how all these different kinds of magic slotted together, I didn’t feel like there were many clear rules, except for where the plot demanded it, and that left me feeling a little confused at times.

But this book is certainly character driven, all of the action coming from the perspective of Captain Galharrow, leader of the Blackwing, a group of ‘soldiers’ whose job it is to bring back the heads of criminals. To do so they often have to head into The Misery, a fate most would say is worse than death. For the most part, I thought Galharrow was a pretty decent protagonist. There are quite a lot of clichés within the character, the idea of being a wealthy man who has fallen into a life of drink and…not debauchery but a certain grit and grime. Galharrow spends most of the book either getting drunk or complaining about wanting to get drunk, which is fine mostly but can get a little grating at times.

I am always looking for great female characters in a book such as this, where the action is driven by a very ‘masculine’ character. There are two women worth talking about and they are Galharrow’s…the closest word I can think of is right-hand woman Nenn who is part of the Blackwing and was just fabulously snarky and tougher than Galharrow could ever claim to be (Nenn wins my ‘best character’ for sure). The other is Ezabeth, who is a spinner and the in-world equivalent of a scientist. I thought Ezabeth had a lot of moments wherein she was a phenomenal character, my one problem was that I felt her achievements got sidelined quite often because of Galharrow’s plot. I wouldn’t go so far as to say her entire character is just used to further Galharrow’s storyline, but it does tiptoe a little close to that line at times. However, in a story with comparatively few characters that the reader gets to know very well having two pretty decent female characters is not to be sniffed at.

The plot, like the magic system, was interesting and had some great ideas within it, but did manage to get quite complicated at times, where I’m not sure it needed to. Broadly speaking you have the threat of invasion from across the misery and the need to restore the town’s defences, however a lot of the story is also tied up in Galharrow’s personal development, so I personally got quite lost at times, not sure what I was meant to focus on in the plot.

This book reminded me of a book called Scourge, which I reviewed a while back. Much like Scourge there are some great ideas within this story and it is, overall, an enjoyable read, it just needed a slightly tighter hand on the reigns to make it great.

My rating: 3/5 stars

All opinions are my own.

What say you? Have you read Blackwing? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to stop by for my review of the sequel Ravencry!


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