This is easily the quickest I have ever got through an audiobook. I struggle with audiobooks. I’m very picky when it comes to narration and rarely find time to stick my headphones in and dedicate time to listening. I’m also not very good at just sitting still and listening, I need to occupy my body in some way while I’m at it. I got through Blackwing in a single week. I was finding excuses to ignore the world, stick my headphones in and listen. My house was cleaned twice; I even scraped the window frames clean and hoovered all the skirting boards. Blackwing made me do household chores just to have an excuse to listen. So I guess what I’m trying to say is… I loved this book!
At this point I’ll mention that Blackwing is narrated by Colin Mace and he did an absolutely fantastic job. It took a few chapters to get the speed setting right as he leaves quite long breaks between paragraphs, but also speaks quite quickly. But his portrayal of the main character truly helped drag me in and I felt completely absorbed.
So Blackwing takes place in a sort of post apocalyptic frontier type of world. It might be termed as matchlock fantasy as there are firearms and odd levels of technology. It’s set against the backdrop of a war that has been raging for generations. The humans on one side, backed by wizards called the Nameless; and the Drudge on the other side, ruled by ancient evils creatures called the Deep Kings. And between the two sides lays the Misery, a vast expanse of wasteland blasted by a cataclysm that tore open the sky and infected the land with malevolent magic. The things that live in the misery are monsters, warped by a magic that seeps inside and twists them about. It’s fair to say the Misery lives up to its name.
Our main character is a delightful chap called Ryhalt Galharrow. OK, he’s not delightful. He’s harsh, cynical, nihilistic, violent, drunk more often than not, and a bounty hunter who will do just about anything for the right price. He’s incredibly compelling and drags you right into the narrative, and then holds you under until you’re seconds away from drowning in it. I’m fairly cynical myself, so it’s fair to say I got on well with Ryhalt.
But before you go thinking it’s all grimdark, with crappy people and a shitty world. It’s not. Ed McDonald himself admitted there’s a love story going on in there and the story is as much about hope as it is about cynical nihilism, with a fair touch of awe and wonder. And he’s right. It’s all delivered in first person, riding along in Ryhalt’s head, and despite the fairly horrific things he’s been through, despite the lot he has drawn in life and the terrible choices he has made, there is a kernel of hope buried in the center of his being. That he tries desperately to crush it at every opportunity only serves to make him even more accessible to the audience.
The plot zips along as a dizzying pace as Ryhalt and his interchanging crew are led on an investigation into the one thing that is protecting the humans against the drudge, an apocalyptic weapon that has sat dormant for decades. But don’t expect it all to be straightforward. The author slaps the audience about with twist after twist and it’s not until the end where everything falls into place that many questions are finally answered.
I’m struggling a little with the rating. I reserve 5 stars for something truly special. But I loved this book. I loved the setting and the characters, the magic system and the technology, the players and the masters their strings. I felt completely absorbed by Ryhalt’s voice and the narration was stellar. So I’m going to cheat a little and give it 4.5 because I always round up! 😀
Blackwing is one of the most fun and compelling fantasies I’ve read in a long time, and definitely one of the best I’ve read in 2017.