Book Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Blackwing

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Raven’s Mark
Author info: https://edmcdonaldwriting.com/

It has been a couple of weeks since I finished Blackwing, but I am writing the review now since I had been dealing with illness, job change and other personal issues. I wanted to find some quiet time in order to do justice to this excellent debut. There was a lot of hype when it came out, and Blackwing more than lives up to it.

The whole story is told in first person narrative from Ryhalt Galharrow’s perspective. I couldn’t decide whether the guy is likeable or not, but he is quite an intriguing character. Galharrow, a battle-hardened drunkard with nihilistic tendencies, is a Blackwing captain serving one the godlike entities called the Nameless and moonlighting as a bounty hunter. He works with his crew, and two core members stand out as stellar side characters. Nenn is a sharp-tongued badass warrior, and Tnota is an affable navigator from an exotic land. Nenn reminded me of Michael Fletcher’s Stehlen character from the Manifest Delusions books. She takes no shit from anyone and fights like a demon. What’s there not to like?

The other well-written female character is Ezabeth, Galharrow’s old girlfriend from his teenage years he is still madly in love with. She is quite enigmatic for most of the story, kind of mysterious and distant from the POV of Galharrow. She is a damn good example of a first class badass female character that is not a warrior princess type. Ezabeth is a 45 kilo nothing skinny gal, but boy does she kick arse left and right!

The setting is cool and the place called Misery is one of the most impressive settings I have read so far. Hats off to Ed for creating such a novel, spooky, weird ass place. You never know what will hit you in Misery, you feel the terror along with the characters walking on eggshells. The villains and mutant creatures that are spawn out of Misery are pretty unusual and creepy as hell.

There are a ot of mysteries in Blackwing, and their beautifully paced resolutions and reveals make it a page turner you can’t put down until you drop (or finish the book.)
I gotta say people are right to compare it to Abercrombie’s work, it has the grimdark, the humor, the gore, the battle scenes and the plot twists. Oh and Ed McDonald’s HEMA mastery shows. I’m easily bored with prolonged swordfighting scenes (Raymond E. Feist, I’m looking at you!) but McDonald manages to put just the right dose of sword porn, keeping it highly engaging and neat. There’s matchlock and sword fights, both are excellent.

The only thing I’ll complain about is that the relationship development between Galharrow and Ezabeth in the last part of the book didn’t sit right with me and felt rushed. But that’s not a big deal considering the book is a damn good read overall.

All in all Blackwing is a pretty solid debut (I know, I know, everyone is saying the same on Goodreads but that is a fact!) with a top notch post apocalyptic grimdark setting, kickass grimdark characters, super cool magic system, copious doses of originality and creative talent. You are missing a lot if you aren’t reading it -I know I slapped myself for being so late to pick it up.

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Book Review: Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Sister
Genre: Fantasy/YA
Series: Book of the Ancestor
Author info: http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.com

Grey Sister is the sequel to Red Sister, and second book of the series. Here is my spoiler free review of Red Sister.

I said Red Sister will leave you with a book hangover in my review. Well, take that and multiply it by a hundred, that’s the hangover you will get after reading Grey Sister.
The sequels getting better and better is a Mark Lawrence thing, going by his track record.

Grey Sister picks up the story fast forward two years. Nona is studying in the Mystic class, with the yearning for vengeance burning in her heart. The way the characters, plots and relationships develops over the foundations laid out in Red Sister is just amazing. Nona’s character development is brilliant and her infinite love and loyalty for her friends will put a tear in your eye.

Nona’s conflicts and struggles, and the way she handles them adds quite a bit of depth to her character. She is overpowered in some parts and totally vulnerable in some others, which creates a good balance.

Things get hell of a lot darker as the story moves forward, with more evil business uncovered, and pretty gritty settings. It is not grimdark like The Broken Empire books, but has quite a few grimdark elements. There are also some horror story moments which gave me goosebumps.

Abbess Glass and Zole are the rising stars in Grey Sister. Zole was an annoying character in Red Sister, but she grows into a first class badass and one of the coolest characters of the series. She steals the show in some glorious and unforgettable badassery moments, as well as some deeply emotional ones.

In my Red Sister review, I said “I have a feeling she will do serious damage in the next book” about Abbess Glass, and I was right. I have to say Abbess Glass is a wonderful representation of mature female in fantasy literature. She doesn’t have any magic skills, but she has a the genius wits, wisdom and intuition. She has a much bigger role now that she is deeply involved in an intricate chess game of political machinations, which I found absolutely mind-blowing as a huge fan of political intrigue. Not only that, but the corruption in the church and people using religion to further their own agendas makes the story pretty realistic.

Sister Kettle also has a bigger part and her epic assassin ninja mojo steals the show in a few places. Her battle scenes are super awesome, and her lovely personality comes as a bonus. Not to mention she has admirable heroic qualities.

My other favorite was a non-human character called Keot, the little demon companion of Nona. He is a proper chaotic neutral, quite charming in a twisted way, and highly entertaining. It takes a special kind of genius to bring a disembodied character like that to life, with a palpable presence and strong voice. I’m a fan!

There are incredible twists and turns in Grey Sister, dialled up from what you see in Red Sister. I’m still so awestruck with the marvellous political intrigue and the breathtaking action-thriller parts. Second half of the book picks up the pace by several levels and the action gets so thick, you can’t put the book down to the point you forget to eat lunch. I am not kidding you.

The magic system introduced in Red Sister was pretty neat, but Grey Sister lays bare all the dazzling details of it. I have to say the originality and the whimsical beauty of the thread magic was one of the absolute best things I have read in any fantasy book to date. I don’t even have the words to do the justice here. Let me just say that if they made this series into movies, thread magic would make some truly mesmerizing scenes.

The last chapters took me to a whole another dimension and would have left me with a supermassive book hangover had I not lined up just the right books to cure it.

If you aren’t reading this series, you are missing out a damn lot. Grey Sister is a masterpiece and fantastic in every way to say the least.

Book Review: The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

The Shadow Rising
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Wheel of Time
Author info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Jordan

This is book #4 of the legendary Wheel of Time series. See my reviews for the first book, the second book and the third book.

Warning: Spoilers for the previous books, since it’s inevitable when reviewing series, especially a long one like The Wheel of Time.

It took me forever to start, since SPFBO and some new releases came along. I have missed whe WoT world until I finally got to reading The Shadow Rising.

The beginning chapters are dynamite, featuring the girls and Mat’s gambling with fireworks. Things get pretty interesting. I found some of the early parts featuring Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne a bit too slow, but it picked up in no time. The Shadow Rising features the most stunning part I have seen in the series so far: The history of Aiel through Rand’s perspective. That is one of the coolest things I’ve read in fantasy.

Now let me say a few things about the characters. Character development didn’t fall short of my expectations. I was hella annoyed with Faile in The Dragon Reborn and found her repulsive, but she actually grew into a super cool figure. Kind of reminded me of Mike Fletcher’s unlikeable characters you love in the next book (the books are Beyond Redemption and The Mirror’s Truth for the unitiated.)

Pining romance is one of my pet peeves in fantasy and it annoyed me in a few places, but it was hell of a lot less than the previous volumes, especially the Game of Houses stuff. I gotta say I missed the political intrigue, there was some political intrigue in this book but not nearly enough. The other badass scenes more than made up for it, though, so no complaints there.

I loved Elayne’s and Faile’s character development above all else. The amazing detail of new places, cultures and especially the Aiel parts were great. There are some crazy twists that left me with my jaw hanging open. Robert Jordan’s storytelling is ever so impressive. Tanchico was far grittier than any other city in the previous books, not just the setting but the politics and the relations between different groups.
The Shadow Rising is quite a bit darker and just as intense, and I have a feelings things will get darker still.

I can’t wait to read book 5!

Top Ten Favorite Book Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday

Happy TTT everyone!
I have been out of blogging for some time due to personal and health issues, I gotta admit missed the Top Ten Tuesday the most.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly blog meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and this week’s theme is favorite book quotes. Here goes my top ten:

Prince of Thorns

“Memories are dangerous things. You turn them over and over, until you know every touch and corner, but still you’ll find an edge to cut you.”

The Judging Eye

“I remember… I remember asking a wise man, once… though whether it was last year or a thousand years ago I cannot tell. I asked him, ‘Why do Men fear the dark?’ I could tell he thought the question wise, though I felt no wisdom in asking it. ‘Because darkness,’ he told me, ‘is ignorance made visible.’ ‘And do Men despise ignorance?’ I asked. ‘No,’ he said, ‘they prize it above all things-all things! -but only so long as it remains invisible.'”

The Court of Broken Knives

“A wise man who’s ignored is about as effective as an idiot who’s listened to.”

The Blade Itself

“Everything frightens me, and it’s well that it does. Fear is a good friend to the hunted, it’s kept me alive this long. The dead are fearless, and I don’t care to join them.”

darkness

“The thoughts of all men arise from the darkness. If you are the movement of your soul, and the cause of that movement precedes you, then how could you ever call your thoughts your own? How could you be anything other than a slave to the darkness that comes before?”

The Liar's Key

“Still, children hope in ways adults find hard to imagine. They carry their dreams before them, fragile, in both arms, waiting for the world to trip them.”

Sojourn

“It is better, I think, to grab at the stars than to sit flustered because you know you cannot reach them.”

A Wizard of Earthsea

“For a word to be spoken, there must be silence. Before, and after.”

A Feast For Crows

“I prefer my history dead. Dead history is writ in ink, the living sort in blood.”

Beyond Redemption

“A sane man is simply a man afraid to unleash his inner demons.”

Blackwing: LITFIC edition

Hilarious satire piece from my dear friend Ed McDonald. Only I didn’t find it literary enough cause it’s not talking about the 4th divorce of a geriatric literarure professor.
Try better, Ed!
But still hilarious nonetheless 😀

ED MCDONALD

Everyone knows that literary fiction is the best form of fiction and that popular books are written by mere hacks spouting garbage for the unwashed, illiterate masses who can barely understand a story, let alone a sentence that has taken 12 hours of deliberation. As such I am rewriting the whole of Blackwing into a more literary style. Here’s a taster.

View original post 243 more words

My SPFBO Reviews


Pilgrim Of The Storm is a story of otherness, lost identity and a journey to find answers. It starts slow, but gets interesting as the world unfolds and character relationships develop. Pilgrim Of The Storm is a rather short book compared to the massive fantasy tomes I have been reading lately, it is just 200 pages but a nice read.

Sidge is the lone bugman, an insectoid humans look down on, adopted and raised by his human master at the Stormblade Temple. The whole story has a melancholy undertone stemming from this theme. Poor Sidge is treated terribly by most people, his race is considered inferior and bestial, he knows nothing of his heritage and bloodline, and he goes on the arduous pilgrimage journey with his semi absent-minded master Izhar. A good part of the book takes place on the road, where Sidge and his master join the pilgrimage caravan headed to the Stronghold. Sidge discovers mysteries and finds more questions as he finds some answers along the way.

The story is overall decent, but has a few rough edges, especially in the beginning chapters. The pilgrimage journey is slow-paced for the most part, nothing much happens except for a few scary moments, the encounter with a troll and Sidge’s spiritual vision. The most interesting character of the whole story is introduced in the earlier part of the journey: Mistress Kaaliya, a street-wise woman who has a big mouth and a colorful personality.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/780-pilgrimofthestorm

Kindling features interesting main characters and great action scenes, especially in the last quarter of the book. It opens with a great prison sequence which reminded me of the Elder Scrolls games. The main protagonist Zahir left a great first impression on me, as did the realistically depicted inmates. However, after the first chapter it started to fall flat due to the dire need of editing. I can overlook a flaw or two, but they piled up rather quick.

Before I talk about those, I would like to talk about the positive aspects. Zahir and Marietta are definitely interesting and complex enough, also easy to root for. Absalom and Althea, are pretty cool, even though I did not connect with them as well as Zahir and Marietta. The buildings, castles, citadels and dungeons are realistic and interesting with vivid detail. Gore and splatter is well-executed. I am no fan of gore, but it was depicted pretty good without being too repetitive. The cannibalism and savagery of the zombified pit-dwellers is one of the highlights of the book, with the drama and tension aspects neatly woven into the brutal imagery. I found the the action in the last parts of the book quite impressive with the perfect pacing and suspense elements.

Unfortunately there are also quite a few issues. First of all, there is a major Wheel of Time derivative aspect. The order of sorceresses called the Flames sound like the Aes Sedai taken over by the Black Ajah. The symbol of sorcery (flame) is pretty much the same as the Aes Sedai symbol. Men’s magic is tainted and they turn into monsters when their power reaches the pinnacle. The Flames ladies hunt down and kill the men with magic, and they use the ones with rare powers as tools until those men go berserk. This was a tad too much for me to overlook as a reader who values originality above all else.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/849-kindling


This is a sword and sorcery tale, with a good amount of sword and little sorcery. It has a nice action-packed opening, with our hero the farmboy Benjamin helping his village folk battle a demon attacking their village. Shortly after, a strange group shows up, featuring a stern mage lady, a blademaster, an affable rogue and a noble girl with her maid. One can see the Wheel of Time influence, but it didn’t feel derivative at all. The characters and the general atmosphere were different enough.

Benjamin sets out with this group to help take his adopted sister to the City, where she will go to the mage school.The fighting scenes, action, adventures, political intrigue, journeys, city and market scenes are top notch quality and the book is a solid page turner. One great thing about this story is, the main protagonist is just a simple brewer from some backwater village. He has no special powers, no prophecies, no magic. He is not a chosen one or savior. He listens to his mentors and learns skills with hard work and daily practices. This was quite inspirational stuff, no special powers coming out of thin air, but with disciplined work and dedication. I really liked this about the story.

Ben is likeable enough, but my favorite characters overall were Rhys, the mercenary rogue, and Renfro, the little thief friend of Ben. However, as fun as it was to read, Benjamin Ashwood has quite a few issues.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/898-benjaminashwood

The White Tower is a big book at a whopping 624 pages, but it is a page turner in enough parts.It is a sprawling epic fantasy tale with a huge character cast and diverse settings. It starts as a typical run of the mill epic fantasy, which I didn’t mind at all cause everything I love about epic fantasy was there. The White Tower features a lot of Point of View characters, but the plots are centered around four of them. These are Ty, the fae-bred youth who seems to be some kind of chosen one, Ayrion the Guardian Protector, the heroic warrior figure, the magic wielding smith Ferrin, and the villain Valtor who is a dark magician hell bent on summoning the long-banished dark lord figure. Ty’s point of view scenes have a whimsical quality; I particularly loved the magic displays and the interesting secondary characters there.

Ferrin’s and Ty’s parts were among my favorites as well as Ayrion’s excursions and rather interesting battle scenes with a bit of a magic twist. The action scenes are impressive and the character perspectives get interesting as you progress through the story. Poor quarter and thieves’ guild parts were excellent. Another positive aspect is the presence of amazing female characters. These being said, the White Tower has several serious issues.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/942-whitetower

As severely underrated as it is, Pilgrimage to Skara is a highly engaging and entertaining flintlock fantasy tale.

This is the last book in my SPFBO batch, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much since I had two strong books which got high praise from the other folks. After checking its Goodreads profile, my expectations dipped further since it has only one rating, one review, and a cover that is far from attractive.

However, this book grabbed me from page one and I ended up turning the pages at the airport with 4 hours of sleep, during the flights and in whatever free time I could find during my extremely busy work travel schedule. I haven’t been so surprised by an indie book before.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/959-pilgrimageskara

At Bristolcon, We Drink and We Learn Things

I totally suck at writing convention recap posts. In fact I failed to do one for Worldcon, it was simply too overwhelming to pull my head together and write a post. I figured I should do one for Bristolcon since it is a very special gathering for me and I owe it to the folks.

I booked a few days in order to actually see the city this time, do a trip to Bath, and take some photos of Bristol. I don’t have the energy to download and sort the DSLR photos at the moment, but I will post them on instagram at some point.

We planned to be there at the same dates with my buddy Thomas James Clews (who is an amazing fantasy and grimdark literature advocate) and we attended the female grimdark authors panel at Waterstones the night before Bristolcon. That was a great panel, featuring authors including brilliant Anna Smith Spark, Jen Williams and Anna Stephens.

I haven’t been in the best shape in terms of physical and mental health lately and I was not able to update my own blog while I was involved in judging the SPFBO for Booknest (check this link to see all of my SPFBO reviews on booknest)

Late it better than never, however. I had some of the best moments of my life with my awesome bookish friends, made some new friends and got to visit Mark Lawrence along with T.O Munro (Check his books out on his Goodreads profile!)
Celyn Lawrence has the most heartwarming and precious smile. Those big smiles made my day as much as the company of my dear friends.

Special thanks to Julia Kitvaira and Marielle Ooms-Voges for the surprise presents. Huge thanks to Thomas James Clews for being a beacon of positive energy and goodness, of and R.B. Watkinson for being such a sweet and caring friend since my first Bristolcon. Also, James Latimer deserves a big trophy for organizing the sightseeing trip.

Dyrk Ashton came all the way from the States and Petros Triantafyllou (of Booknest) traveled all the way from Greece, winning both the distance award and life of the party award. Dyrk was a finalist in last year’s SPFBO with his book Paternus, and he is one of the most likeable and fun people in the fantasy scene. One of the most positive and energetic folks I’ve ever met. I am hoping his arch nemesis Michael R. Fletcher can make it to Bristolcon next year. We are trying hard to make it international.

Sadly I didn’t make it to any panels other than the pre-Bristolcon one at the Waterstones, the crowd at the bar was so awesome I just couldn’t leave such a magical party for any panel even if it were GRRM. Yes, the Bristolcon crew is that good.

I must also thank the Doubltree Hotel’s night shift manager and bartenders for taking great care of everyone and tolerating us. Bristolcon is the one place where you can geek out about books with the bar staff (they turned out to be Polish, so we started chatting about the Witcher books and it went to Wheel of Time and other good stuff from there.)

I’m not known to upload photos from my DSLR right away, sometimes I take up to a year to process the photos from trips, but I intend to make a post with the Bristol and Bath photos soonish. (Don’t take my word on it, I’m a lazy sod!)

But here are some photos from Laura M. Hughes’s Twitter feed which sum up the party spirit: https://twitter.com/HalfStrungHarp/status/924725739190136832

And T.o. Munro’s blog post which makes a better summary: http://tomunro.blogspot.fi/2017/10/i-dont-get-out-much-but-when-i-do-i.html

I am hoping to do better convention reporting next year.