Blackwing by Ed McDonald

34826946The 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.

Source Format Pages Publisher Genre Publication Date
NetGalley eARC 384 Gollancz Fantasy July 27th, 2017

When you realise the mountain you’ve been climbing is just a heap of shit, the fall doesn’t feel so far.

I am having trouble writing a review for this book… I am thinking this is because there are so many things I want to mention about it… all those things that were awesome… and I’m grumpy as shit because my brain doesn’t seem to be, you know, working! Instead, I told myself.. OK- if I was to tell about this book to a friend, what would I say?

I would probably start with a tried and tested cliché:

If you like fantasy at all, then you simply must read Blackwing.

And then I would try to convince my friend to read the book by saying:

OK,so you know how fantasy always has these great worlds and big hidden agendas? Yeah, you won’t be let down reading Blackwing. And it’s all good, OK? Like really good and even unexpected, even though if you were a thinking man, you would probably consider all the options the plot can deliver. I didn’t though, because while the plot was mega and the worldbuilding fabulous, I could only focus on one character… and I’m not saying that was a bad thing. You know? I was fully and completely captured by Ryhalt Galharrow… what a man… *looks off into the distance, imagining Galharrow*

OK, OK… so you liked the main character, but come on, be a bit more … I mean, be a bit less vague about what happens!

Well, OK, so, the already post-apocalyptic world is going to shits, right? The Deep Kings (they’re some kind of bad gods) are thinking of taking over the Empire because as you read from the blurb (you did read the blurb, right?) the Nall’s Engine is probably kinda/sorta kaput. And it doesn’t make sense because since the Nameless (the good gods?) ‘installed’ it, it has been fuelled for 80 years by the power and lifeblood (I say lifeblood as a loose term here) of the Spinners who create the phos light and… anyway, the mechanics of it went over my head but it doesn’t matter. Anyway, the Engine is probably screwed, it’s a conspiracy among the cream but the thing is, The Deep Kings can’t really be sure… They want to invade but they fear the Engine… so they create these beings… the drudge… from men.. and they’re just this undead army of sorts. 

So what, like zombies?

Nah, more like abused souls, captured to follow orders. Killing machines, don’t care of they die… that sort of thing… And blimey, you wouldn’t imagine some of the other characters… We covered off the yin and yang of gods.. The Deep Kings, bad, OK? And the Nameless, they’re the good gods…as good as any god can be, and they’re not actually Nameless but you know how people like to have labels against every human and item.. ok, makes sense… But… There are the Darlings and the Brides! Shiiit… The Darlings are also twisted into being from man, but they have these crazy powers and every man alive is, rightly so, completely afraid of them. They are like certain death and it’s even worse because they look and sound like children. I mean, proper creepy shit.

A Darling. Hair shorn close, face plump with puppy fat, it was dressed in a tattered doublet two sizes too large and breeches torn through at the knees like some kind of pauper prince. The awful malice around his mouth, the cruel hunger in his eyes told me that I was about to die. It was going to hurt.

The Brides.. uh, you know I imagined a Bride to be like this massive, fat Spider in the centre of the web… except the web is the S&M dungeon and everyone trapped in the brothel web is just hungry for all of the seven sins. And there’s fluids and humidity and moans and stuff… flesh, madness… I could go on… ?

The magic of the Bride is more addictive than white-leaf, the draw stronger than pollen. The men brought their friends and she gradually became part preacher, part sexual predator. As the Bride’s influence grew, so she swelled in body.

No, I got the picture… cool, so what’s the world like? I mean, what’s all this Misery business?

Ah, The Misery… can we go back to the characters, then? After I’ve told you about The Misery? 

Sure, Liz, Sure! 

Cheers. Well… The Misery is like a wasteland. Imagine Mad Max, the one with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, ok? Yeah, that. But instead of Warboys you have all sorts of nightmare-ish stuff creeping about The Misery. Skweams… and the gillings, for example, who know only 6 phrases that certainly prophesize doom. Oh, they also like to eat people in a rather messy way. Or the aforementioned Brides, they can be found in The Misery as well. That’s not it though, because The Misery was created by a god, it’s also full of magic, so whenever a regular human goes to The Misery it affects them. Not like completely and utterly, but one will have the shakes for quite some while after they return from the wastelands. Crap! How could I forget? There’s the sky… The Misery has a sky that wails and moans and has three moons, dude! Like whoa, mushy trip! Just, the world in this book is good, OK? 

OK, sound! I can see you itching, Liz… Tell me more about those characters… have at it, profess your undying love for Captain Galharrow…

First of all, let me tell you about Nenn and Tnota… Nenn is a female, fierce as they come. Takes no crap, fights like a jungle cat with a sword and probably has no manners. But she’s loyal and feisty and all woman. #girlcrush

Some people wrongly assumed we were lovers, as though scars sought out scars. She claimed to be a hellcat in the sack, but I could never have dealt with either her spitting or her complete lack of regard for manners. With that wooden nose on her face she’d never be asked to sit for an artist, but my own portrait wouldn’t exactly moisten the ladies at court.

Tnota is a navigator working for Captain Galharrow… a really good navigator who guides the group through The Misery the fastest route by charts and moons… Tnota is chill, though… he’s the baking soda to Nenn’s vinegar. 

I really enjoyed their group dynamics. Galharrow, Nenn and Tnota. They were just the right mix together. The right mix of misery, hope, profanity and loyalty. The right mix of fun and boozing.

Then there is the mysterious noblewoman… but, sorry, I can’t tell much about her. It frickin’ pains me because I want to tell you everything… but, shhh… nobody likes a spoiler! 

So that leaves me with Galharrow… I enjoyed the book because I enjoyed Galharrow. A tortured (anti)hero of sorts… from the right side of the tracks to the wrong side of the tracks without losing heart… He surprised me, that man so he did. A lot of shit went wrong for him and being a Blackwing now… well, there ain’t a single mercenary for dirty jobs without them having a booze issue. But he always has heart and wit and that other, the good, side of him made me choke up a bit. Because a strong man is honest, direct and not a pussy when it comes to showing emotions at the right time. His character was just down to a T. His thoughts selfish, but he’s not really a prick. Not really. 

‘We have walls, guns, blades and brandy,’ I said, turning my voice hard. ‘And fuck me but those are good ingredients to whip up a fight.

OK, fangirl. I get it. Strong characters, lots of banter and profanity and fun and danger. Sounds good. Tell me though, is it just a simple kind of storyline? Just the “save the world and ride off with your woman” kind of thing?

Oh gosh, no. There are so many fingers in this specific post apocalyptic pie. So many fingers, all different, like fingers are, but all tied to the same hand… Heh, that’s a hand with a lot of fingers but you get my gist. For example, there is a creepy healer in the mix of things and I didn’t think he was going to have much of an impact on the overall, but my did he have an impact. He was separate from the overall plotline, until he wasn’t… you see, one does simply not require his services and not pay their debt to him.

Anyway, there is a bit of a show around the delicate feelings of love, there’s the look to the past that will help you understand some personal demons. Loaded with political intrigue and conspiracy, Blackwing will take you to madhouses and pubs, dirty apartments and villas. You’ll read about princes and Spinners. It’s just a big juicy pie! Everyone likes pie. 

I figured that Stannard’s growls and threats were what he mistook for power. Men of his calibre didn’t understand that real power goes unspoken.

True, that! But you know, good things can sometimes fall flat.. cakes fall flat, too… When the writing has no.. certain quality to it, it’s just a whole lot of salivating mouth for nothing, eh?

I’m rather offended that you think all this epic goodness I have been gushing about until now hasn’t already implied quality writing. But I get it… beauty in the eye of the beholder… Blackwing has a ton of epic scenes and settings all delivered through magical hand. If I told you that some scenes and settings were vivid, would that help? No, probably not.. Maybe? Vivid is such an overused word… like ‘unputdownable’ (gosh, I dislike this word… unputdownable!) And yet, Blackwing was exactly those things… Delivered with confidence, through strong convincing words, there was nothing tepid about the whole book. It was all steel balls and beating heart! 

Burning was a bad way to go, but my reserves of empathy were usually exhausted on orphans and puppies, a lot higher up the list than arsonists and arseholes.

Right… I have purged myself! The longest rambles I’ve ever written for a book… Not even sure you can call this a review, but if I really have to make one point, scroll up and see that tried and tested cliché… Fantasy friends, you simply must read this book. Blackwing is delivered in first person- Galharrow, of course. That means a front seat spectacle through the eyes and heart of larger than life character full of spirit and hurt and pent up anger. He has more booze than blood in his veins but fight and life has not left him.

Blackwing also has the perfect balance in between character depth and action. There is tons of action in this book. Tons of it and it’s all easy to follow no matter how mind bending at times. And not a single infodump with all those pie covered fingers! Everything is delivered and revealed at just the right time, in the right setting.

Your whole life, every experience you have had or ever will have, is just a gust of wind across the plain. Fleeting, momentary, barely more than a dream and less well remembered.

Thoroughly enjoyed it, one of my favorites of 2017, a do-not-miss-this kind of book, the ‘I underlined about 6294635385 sentences‘ kind of book.

I’m full aware that I have still ended up being very vague about the plot but Blackwing is just one of those books you’ll want to discover and explore for yourself. And if you do, please do leave your shoes at the door. What? Oh.. what I mean is, it’s a book, please don’t take personal offense at the occasional derogatory terms and conditions. Cocks and whores will be mentioned.

Over & Out!

Goodreads¦ Amazon UK ¦ USA 


  1. Great review! Even though I’m taking a break from blogging this week I had to check this post out! Awesome post, so much fun!

    Really glad you enjoyed it so much. Sniggers at people being offended by c#cks and wh#res, if they take offence to words like that in today’s day and age then sigh.😢

    Hey! Some of us are always vague about the plot in our reviews Lizzy! As all books should be discovered by the reader!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Drew… Thanks for taking a break from your break to check out my review 🙂

      It’s a fantastic book and I can’t wait to read your review…

      Anyway, have a great break and get back to us soon, hey! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Friggin ace review! I’m currently halfway through this as I’m on the blog tour next week and it’s bloody aces! But I have no idea how I will write the review, like none! For such an amazing book it’s a really hard one to say anything about!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not a *single* info dump?! No way! That’s amazing. It’s obvious that you love this book– and I adore the format you used to write this post. I have been there myself a few times. But, I instead choose not to write the review at all O_o… This means I might or might not have about 20 unwritten reviews. Oops. I really should get on that. Like stat.

    Anywho! Is Blackwing a stand alone novel? I can’t find any details about a sequel, but it’s rare we get stand alone fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, sometimes a review requires a different approach… especially when you have so many things you want to say about the novel- how to make it all fit and flow? You should defo send more of those unwritten reviews out there 🙂 Never know what gems we might discover 😉

      Nope, Blackwing isn’t a standalone. I should have probably put to the title that it’s Book #1 in the Raven’s Mark series… not sure how many there will be, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Most of my unwritten reviews are sitting around due to travel limitations; I haven’t been taking my laptop most places, and I HATE blogging on my phone. Worst. I really should invest in something like a Chromebook… I hope to take some time off one weekend coming up and crank some of those out. Perhaps I’ll even steal your style? 😉

        Drat! I was hoping for a stand alone. I really need more stand alone fantasy in my life. Lately, I’ve been finding that I don’t have the mental focus for most series. I just need a break from high fantasy series while I still get my high fantasy kick. You know what I mean? 😉


  4. A long ramble you call it, but I adore this review and how you’ve written it! Your review alone was fun to read so I can only imagine how fun the book is 😀 I’m still dipping my toes into fantasy so I might give this one a try 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Jazz! ❤
      This is the kind of fantasy I like- plenty of swearing and boozing and banter… Blackwing is kind of an in between though.. it has the world and not too many bloody battles and also a bit of love.. so it might be a good one for you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Well really you had me at the tried and tested cliché 😉 But of course I will buy anything you are sounding. This sounds like a rowdy, good time. The reason we read fantasy! Thanks to you I just added the pre-order to my cart ❤ And ummm hello.. as if you did not sell it enough.. had to throw in the bit about Mad "Frickin" Max. My heavy little heart is swooning. This review is over the top wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! 🙂 ❤
      I dohope that you will enjoy this book once you get around to reading it… I think you will though… Yeah, defo! 😀 *can you feel the voodoo happening? I'm wiring your brain yo like this book already so there won't be any disappointment for taking my review at face value and spending your money!* 😀 LOL…


  6. Holy sh*t. I love the format of this review. I mean… If I were to ever recommend a recently read book to a friend, I’d have the toughest time in the world and would just say something like: “Trust me.” Hahahaahh But.. Liz.. You definitely sealed the deal. I’ve only seen fantastic, positive reviews for this book, but this one just massaged all the right spots hahahah I definitely hope to read this in the near future and see all its glory in all its forms. 😀 Fantastic review!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Everyone seems to have this on there ARC lists, but not read it yet. This is the first review I am seeing. It sounds like they are definitely not going to be disappointed. I wish I had more time for books like this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. That cover is wonderful. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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