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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Bookshelf show off: The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

Look what I got in the mail! 

*happy dance*

I’m about to finish Gardens of the Moon, expect my review of this beauty next!

Quint von Canon’s illustrations are so stunning. The map is superb, too. 

My Writing Soundtrack – Part 4

Here comes the long awaited part 4 of my writing soundtrack -after an awfully long time! Sorry about that- featuring some gems from Faun as well as more game soundtracks and instrumental collections.

Part 1 can be seen here.

Part 2 can be seen here.

Part 3 can be seen here.

Steampunk & Victorian Music Collection

Lindsey Stirling – Dragon Age

I’m a big fan of Lindsey Stirling’s music, it got me through awfully boring night shifts for months back int the day. This is from her official channel, I ordered some songs from her new album from itunes and I highly recommend checking it out. She makes amazing melodic songs which make great background music for writing sessions.

Faun- Ne Aludj El

I wrote many a chapter with this haunting Hungarian song in the background.

Faun – Arcadia

One of my all-time favorites, this Faun song is in Finnish, the lyrics are a poem from the Kanteletar, the lesser known collection of Finnish folk poems (Kalevala is the famous one.) The poem talks about a golden woodland king, which reminds me of Thranduil, which might as well be Tolkien’s inspiration for the character. The way he’s described in Hobbit is somewhat similar to this poem. Tolkien has drawn quite a bit of elements from the Kalevala, it would be no surprise if he was inspired by the Kanteletar also. Anyway, I love this song, it’s flamin’ great.

Faun – Königin

Faun – Egil Saga

Faun – Lupercalia

This one’s lyrics are from an Ovid poem, describing Pan. Ovid was one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature and this song lead me to grabbing a copy of the book, Fastorum Libri Sex, where this poem is taken from.

In the song/poem Pan runs downhill naked, followed by his ministers, in spirit of Lupercalia. At least that’s what I understood 🙂 Here is the Google Books link (scroll a bit for the English translation) for the curious.

Medieval II: Total War – Teutonic Campaign Soundtrack

Medieval Orthodox Byzantine Chants

This will sound weird, but I listen to Byzantine Orthodox chants for getting in the mood for certain parts of the story. It’s heavily inspired by the medieval Byzantine culture and they have produced some of the best religious music of the era. I am not a Christian, but I love the Orthodox chants.They are quite haunting and puts me in that certain atmosphere.

Ancient Greek Music: Spirit of Socrates

This one has some reconstructed (from archaelogical findings) and original music featuring ancient Greek instruments. Pretty darn cool stuff.

Book Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

The Wheel of Osheim

Genre: Dark Fantasy
Series: Red Queen’s War
Author info: http://www.marklawrence.buzz/

This book picks up the adventure where The Liar’s Key left it, with a bang -quite literally! This book is one of the best conclusions of a series I have ever read to date and it answers all of the questions in the most brilliant way with mind blowing twists and reveals. No question was left unanswered for me and the climax was brilliant.

And, if you are a Jorg fan, you will get a stunning scene featuring Jorg and Jalan’s dialogue with Jorg is one of my favorite parts in this book. Jalan’s desert scenes were splendid, but his journey through Hell with Snorri was even more so. Snorri is one of the best fantasy side characters ever and the emotional depth in Snorri’s character arc is incredible.

I am not a fan of battle scenes featuring the zombie/undead enemy armies, those bore me to death but the battle scene in The Wheel of Osheim was an awesome read with ingenious twists and turns. The prose is amazing and the flow of the story is smooth as usual. Jalan’s change and the way he gradually leaves his old life behind along with old Jalan is one of the best parts of the entire series. So is his relationship with Snorri, it’s something only a master wordsmith could write so beautifully.

Red Queen, Silent Sister and Garyus are superb minor characters, I enjoyed their scenes in The Liar’s Key and they get their awesomeness show in this book. The other great thing about this book is the way the answers to all of the questions raised in Prince of Fools and The Liar’s Key are revealed one by one, sometimes with a bang. The major reveals are the sort no one will see coming.

This book, like the previous two, is peppered with hilarious moments and clever quotes, the dialogues are damn good as usual and the action doesn’t let up. One thing I love about Mark Lawrence’s books is that there is always the great philosophy and the reflections of the characters which make you stop reading and think, without letting up the action and the thrill one bit. That is one hell of a feat few authors can accomplish.

If you are a fan of journeys you will love this book and series, there are quite a number of different journey arcs, some featuring just Jalan, some with Jalan and Snorri and some featuring the whole gang (Jalan, Snorri, Kara, Hennan) in different lands, with all kinds of crazy stuff happening along the way.

There are so many things I could say but I can’t say any more for the sake of keeping my review spoiler free. I can’t recommend this book enough, in fact I can’t recommend Mark Lawrence enough.

My Writing Soundtrack – Part 3

Here comes the long awaited part 3 of my writing soundtrack with featuring even more eclectic goodies.

Part 1 can be seen here.

Part 2 can be seen here.
 

Rolandskvadet Harald Foss version

I featured the Medieval Trio version of this great medieval classic, but my personal favorite is the longer version performed by Harald Foss.

2 Hours of Fantasy Music by Derek Fiechter

I discovered this amazing indie gem on /r/Fantasy subreddit and it has been one of my favorite all day loop pieces for some time now. Created by a very talented indie musician, this sweet instrumental collection has all kinds of fantasy themes (each track featuring a beautiful fantasy art piece) including forest fairies, elves, pirates, dwarves and mermaids. I highly recommend this, well it’s not exactly suitable for writing grimdark but I did write some gritty scenes while listening to it. I can’t recommend this artist enough! He has several albums on iTunes and also a spotify channel. I’m planning to buy all of his albums since the songs here are such great inspiration for my writing, I could definitely use more great tracks.

2-Hours Epic Music Mix by various artists

This is a big compilation of instrumental cinematic music. It fits all kinds of fantasy themes, especially epic fantasy but not so much grimdark. I have this on loop quite often.

Acherontic Dawn – Defending Gaia

Great piece of battle and action scenes. One of my all time favorites of this genre.

Colossal Trailer Music – Memoria Invictus

This album is full of heroic and epic stuff, one of the best writing background tracks ever.

Cybertribe -Cry Of The Earth

How I discovered this one is rather funny. When I was on vacation with my metalhead BFF, we went to this badass cafe one night on this mountain village in the Aegean coast of Turkey and they were playing this song and the other one below. She totally fell in love with the songs and asked what they were called and who the artist was. It was sone random radio stream, the owner had no clue at all, so my BFF pulled all kinds of apps and found the songs. This and the below track have been our vacation music ever since. She drops the youtube links when the winter becomes unbearable, as a reminder and flashback trigger for the nice summer days.

WATERBONE – TIBET – AUGUST MOON

Same as above 🙂

Seikilos Epitaph – Song of Seikilos

This beauty is an ancient Greek song, the oldest surviving example of a complete musical composition. It’s about 2000 years old. The notes and the lyrics have been excavated on an ancient Greek burial in the Aegean region of Turkey. The following text was carved on the tombstone:

I am a tombstone, an icon. Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.

Translation of the lyrics:

While you live, shine
Don’t suffer anything at all;
Life exists only a short while
And time demands its toll.

Ancient Roman Music by Musica Romana – Pugnate II

This is a double track featuring “Risus Sativus” and “Hymnus Dianae” from Pugnate album. This is apparently what ancient Roman music sounds like and I love it. The whole album is one of my regular ‘put it on the loop and write’ things.

A rather philosophical excerpt from my book

I was supposed to finish this book last winter but a lot of things like illness got in the way so it’s still not done, but getting there.

In the meantime, I will share an excerpt to show the folks who have been patiently waiting (and those who have been quite rightfully bugging the hell out of me for new chapters and release info) a tiny bit of insight into the main protagonist of this book. I appreciate comments and feedback as usual. WP editor screws up my nice indents, so you will have to excuse me there.

Here it comes:

***

“Master Rogatus is here to give you the report you requested, your majesty.”
“Send him in,” Thalios said. Silence fell upon the air as the imperial physician walked in with slow, even steps. The man stood tall and firm despite his advanced years. Devoid of the weariness of the others, his eyes alight and alive, as if the long march through rough lands had been a pleasant walk in the woods for him.

Thalios didn’t need to ask the question, Rogatus’ gaze told him as much. “Lord Liberius is doing well so far, your majesty. I removed the arrow and treated the wound. It was quite deep but not bad enough to lame his leg. Now we must wait and pray it doesn’t fester.”

“Many thanks, Master Rogatus.” The physician’s eyes were calm but Thalios didn’t miss the hint of concern they held. Men who survived the arrows died from the festering wounds more often than not. He said nothing else, giving a slight nod. Rogatus held his gaze for a moment, then gave a bow and walked out with the same slow, calculated steps. The man’s presence was so strong, Thalios felt like a weight lifted from the air when he walked out of the tent. It was getting dark in the tent, with the sun sinking beyond the horizon.

“Pass the word to all the commanders to get their men ready to march at dawn. I doubt the battle will come to us tomorrow, it’s time we go to it.”
A silent supper followed the quick council. Mathen’s scouts didn’t return, Thalios and his advisors didn’t know what to make of it. Agros thought Anseth was being craven and refusing to come out of hiding. Valkar said Anseth may be plotting a surprise attack. Mathen speculated the men might have deserted, for the tension of uncertainty and the word about half of the army missing wore everyone’s nerves thin. Everyone made a different assumption, but in the end there was even more uncertainty than before, souring their moods.

Thalios went to bed early but sleep didn’t come. He got out of his tent to get some fresh air and walked towards the palisades facing the hills with a band of guards in tow. Countless stars twinkled from horizon to horizon in the moonless night. The night air was not crisp as it was in the mountain passes, only a little less sultry than midday. In another time and another place he would have enjoyed watching the stars.

“Go out into the desert and watch the myriad of divine lanterns in the sky, for their beauty shines brighter than your feeble lamps” one poet had written in a long forgotten age. He was from the bygone desert kingdom in the south where Xil Dhara stood today. The kingdom had crumbled away many centuries ago, names of its kings erased from the memory of men, but the words of the poet were still remembered today.

That many stars in the sky, that many leagues away from civilization, made one question his place in the world, even under the strain of the impending battle. The words inspired by the endless field of stars above would live on, even after the Empire itself became history. No empire ever lasted longer than the wisdom of the poets. Why then am I fighting? Who will remember my name after five hundred years?

Everything seemed so meaningless and paltry all of a sudden, under the unnumbered stars shining there in the black firmament since the dawn of time long before men walked on earth. The moment froze right then and there, shorter than the blink of an eye, when the dreadful battle cries tore through the stillness of the night and the enemy arrows fell upon the camp like a hailstorm.

My Writing Soundtrack – Part 2

I finally have the energy to write the second part of my writing background music list. This part features Icelandic and Finnish folk music, game soundtrack compilations and some instrumental pieces.

Part 1 can be seen here.

Peaceful Jeremy Soule Compilation

This is one of my top 5 most frequently played pieces since it has all my favorite tracks from Oblivion and Skyrim. It includes Morrowind tracks too. I never played Morrowind but I love the music all the same. I am not a fan of the battle music and enemy warning music, so this compilation is just perfect!

Alls Well – Oblivion

This is my ultimate all time favorite in Oblivion game and the reason I spent countless hours shopping in town cause that one plays mostly when you are in the shopping districts. Beautiful harp and medieval tune.

3 Hours of Epic & Powerful Fantasy Music: Legendary – GRV MegaMix

This mix is epic and powerful as the title states. It features cinematic style music by different artists. There’s all kinds of great stuff here fitting every sort of mood and atmosphere, from desert treks to battle scenes. This is one of my top 5 most frequently played favorites. The artworks features in the video are awesome too, I play it as background music but take a look at the artwork every now and then for inspiration.

Icelandic Folk Song – Völuvísa

Harald Foss – Stilla

Another great medieval piece performed by Harald Foss.

Loituma – Kun Mun Kultani Tulisi (Finnish folk music)

Lyrics and translation here. Beautiful and haunting as typical Finnish folk music.

Auðn – Þjáning Heillar Þjóðar (Atmospheric Black Metal from Iceland)

I have no idea how to pronounce it but it’s a damn good piece. Great for sorcery scenes or anything dramatic and grimdark. I love this song.

Medieval 2 Total War Arabic Battle Theme

Since I’m writing some battle scenes in the desert, this piece is quite fitting. I never played Medieval Total War (not my kind of game, I’m more into fantasy roleplaying stuff like the Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age games) but I love its soundtracks.