ARC Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Blackwing: The Raven's Mark Book One

Title: Blackwing | Series: Raven’s Mark #1 | Author: Ed McDonald | Publisher: Gollancz | Publication date: July 20th 2017 | Num. Pages: 384 | Genre: Fantasy, Dystopia | How I owned it: ARC copy kindly provided by the publisher

5 stars – a fantastic debut novel

Many thanks to Stevie and Gollancz for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


 The 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.

Blackwing is a gritty epic fantasy for fans of Mark Lawrence, Scott Lynch and Daniel Polansky.


Blackwing is the first in a new series by a new author who, in my opinion, with this one book is going to blast onto the fantasy scene and prove that there is new talent out there. 

Blackwing follows the story of Ryhalt Gaharrow – captain of a band of mercenaries, unwilling messenger boy for Crowfoot and a member of Blackwing – as he gets a message from the ‘god’ that owns him and the subsequent adventure that message brings him on. 

The story opens with Galharrow in The Misery, a large wasteland created when the war between The Nameless and The Deep Kings came to a head and the sky ripped apart and shit hit the fan. Drudge, Gillings, Darlings and weird twelve legged creatures live in The Misery and it’s these beasties that Galharrow and his band of mercs – Tnota and Nenn are key throughout the book – must avoid at all costs. 

One of the key things that happens in the book is when the raven tattoo on Galharrow’s forearm rips itself out of his skin and delivers a message – this message sets in motion a series of events that ultimately prove and disprove several theories by the cream (nobility) and The Order of Aetherial Engineers. 

Oh yes. That was another thing that got me hooked – it’s bloody steampunk! To a point. There isn’t an over abundance of goggles and gears and such in the clothing if the characters but there’s an Engine and a hell of a lot of phos tube lights (I’m guessing similar to tube lighting we have now) but to gather the phos energy requires a Spinner to gather it from the 3 moons above Valengrad and The Misery. 

As much as I want to describe every single detail that happens in the book I won’t because that will easily ruin the story for everyone who reads it. 

Just know there is utter betrayals, plenty of death and war, and some secrets that have no revelations (Ed, please tell me they’re revealed in the next book?) There are gods and near immortals, a creepy Fixer with a buttload of magic and a shockingly good noblewoman – heh geddit? 

There’s a brilliant connection between Galharrow, Nenn (a noseless woman with a penchant for chewing blacksap) and Tnota (the band navigator) they’ve clearly been through a lot together and it shows through their communications together and what Galharrow will do for them and vice versa – it’s a heck of a bond to try and sever. 
The overall writing style shows a clear British twang to parts of it, particularly the humour which at times could be quite dry but also perfectly sarcastic; other parts of the writing style had a touch of monologue to them but it was miniscule and the fact that Blackwing was written in the first person point of view rather than third person like a lot of books was really great. It gave a distinct look into the inner workings of Galharrow’s mind which I really liked.

I said yesterday when I’d finished the book that if I was wearing a hat I’d tip it to Ed because it was brilliant. An outstanding debut from an author who can definitely take this story to even bigger heights. It was also really nice to meet Ed and when I asked him where the tattoo idea came from I have never had a better answer to a question – he didn’t even have to think about it it just rolled off his tongue so easily: 

“My swordsmanship instructor has this really cool tattoo on his forearm of a sword and I thought one day that it’s be really great if he could just pull it out of his arm to use it.” – Ed McDonald 20th April 2017, Orion Blogger Event.

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