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.

To See a Monster by Ed McDonald, Grimdark Magazine #16, 2018

To See a Monster by Ed McDonald takes place in the same world as the author’s debut novel (the first of a trilogy), Blackwing.

16-monster-1-300x400In this short story, a disgraced soldier deemed a cowered and slandered, challenges his slanderer to a duel. The whole piece takes place in this scene. It’s broken up by memories of the battle the narrator fled from, leaving some of his best soldiers (and best friends) to die, while he made an escape with the bulk of his army.

The world is intriguing. From this piece, I’m not sure if it’s like a gunsmoke fantasy (like guns and magic at the same time) or if it’s more traditionally medieval fantasy. What I do know is that this story piqued my interest in Mr. McDonald’s series, called The Raven’s Mark, released in 2017. The second book, Ravencry will be released next month (August 2018), and I’m excited to dive in and check this story out as soon as I’m done reading Seveneves (about 300 pages to go on that one).

Anyway, back to the story at hand. The narrator is likable and vicious. He’s interesting, cocky, and totally flawed. He’s a bad person for the right reasons. He’s worth reading about and I’m curious if he’s the same main character in the first book. (B-)

Crushing Dreams by Michael R. Fletcher, Grimdark Magazine #16, 2018

This isn’t fiction. Rather, it’s a house call from a depressed neighbor you only half-know. They seem nice, but they always leave off the conversation with something a little odd. Like saying, “dreams are a motherfucker.”

And you’re like. . . they are?

16-monster-1-300x400But if asked a little more about what Mr. Fletcher means, it comes clear that his dreams have not been helpful. He had dreams of being a published author. Once he was one, he wanted to be famous, after that he wanted book sales that were higher than a relative flop from a Big Five publisher. And after that, he got really really drunk really really often because he didn’t seem to be getting past that last dream.

He came out of this depression when he realized his dreams weren’t helping him. They were actually a deterrent. They made him want to write “marketable books” rather than write what he wanted to write. His end-game dreams meant he would have to do stuff he didn’t really want to do, and that isn’t a happy thought. Instead, he started writing stuff he liked. He stopped caring about whether it was going to flop. He stopped caring about whether it turned copies at bookstores because he had been embraced by a lot of people on r/fantasy and the grimdark community. It’s a nice story, to be true. I like it because it’s a reminder not to get caught up on where you’re going with your writing. It’s a reminder to enjoy writing, because if you aren’t enjoying it. . . what’s the point?