Big Ideas: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Last night I finally got through Blackwing, a gritty grimdark fantasy about a doomed and torn city caught in the midst of a war between two factions of undying wizards. Or gods. or demons. You know what, I don’t know what they are, but one faction is called The Nameless (even though they all seem to have names) and the other faction is called The Deep Kings, though what they are kings of and why isn’t quite clear. There’s no map in the book, so getting a sense of direction is difficult for readers–which I think is the point, as 80 years ago Nall’s Engine was activated and it destroyed one of The Deep Kings, as well as his army, as well as the land it rained destruction down on. But that’s not all–Nall’s Engine also broke the sky, carved slits into the fabric of reality, and now the sky wails and whines and screams at odd moments. They call the place where the sky was opened up: The Misery. It’s an apt name–everything and everyone in this book is miserable. It’s a fantastic piece of pessimistic fiction–at least until the very end.

91pne55s6hlThe main character Ryhalt Galharrow (awesome name) in a mercenary known for taking any job, as long as the price is right. When he discovers a couple of dead sympathizers in The Misery with blood running down their cheeks from their eyes, he knows it’s a Darling that has killed him. Then the tattoo of the raven on Galharrow’s arm begins to burn and squirm and it bursts from his arm, a live raven, in a shower of gore. When the raven speaks (of course it does) it is the voice of one of The Nameless–Crowfoot. Crowfoot gives him a mission he dare not refuse. That’s the first chapter.

The whole piece is in first person PoV, which works to make the world ultra real. Galharrow is likable in the way where you admire him but wouldn’t really want to know him because, well, he’s a bit of a dick and he doesn’t mind doing bad things for the right reasons.

The plot takes lots of twists and turns and it’s fun learning about how magic works in this world. It’s not like anything I’ve ever read before–there are matchlock guns, then a thing called Battle Spinners who use light from coiled batteries they use to blow stuff up. Then there are the wizards who have magic that isn’t explained at all because Galharrow doesn’t understand it either.

The book weighs in at 380 pages, short for a fantasy novel, yet near the end of the book I found the book was a bit lagging and thought the conclusion could have come a bit sooner–not by much, but just a little. In the last 100 pages, I think there was a 20-page span or so in which little happened that was essential to the plot or character development.

Otherwise, this is a really great debut novel of dark and gritty fiction. It’s awesome for anyone who is tired of traditional heroes and dark lords and the like in fantasy. For me–I need to take a break from magic and read something a little more literary.

Next up on Big Ideas is Vurt by Jeff Noon, an essential and classic cyberpunk tour de force. See you next time.

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