I first read Blackwing when it came out in 2017. (I think I even wrote a piece of flash fiction to go into a competition to celebrate that event.*)
I loved the book. It reminded me of a combination of William Gibson and Joe Abercrombie, Neuromancer set in Angland. It is dark and unpredictable. It combines fantasy with hard-boiled detective tropes. The magic system sparkles. The non-human monsters are vile but brilliant. It is one of the few books I’ve read where I don’t mind the combination of swords and guns. (The Gutter Prayer has since joined that list.) Blackwing features one of the best bit-part characters ever: Battle-Spinner Rovelle. All 22 lines that he features in are wonderful and the man deserves his own spin-off series. There are nasty gods and nastier people, great action sequences and has a twist in the tale that is superb and seems to come from nowhere.
In short, it is brilliant.
Ravencry is not quite as fresh as its predecessor but is still good. It twists and turns but the literary teeth aren’t as sharp, they don’t bite as deeply. This is despite it having a nastier antagonist and a superb death scene at the end – so few words used to express something so devastating.
I’m not entirely sure why the book is not quite as gripping as Blackwing. Maybe its purely because the concept is not as new, the story is not as quick. Maybe because Galharrow is too maudlin in places. Maybe I’m being too harsh. It’s a good book with some great lines in it and some bitterly true observations. But it didn’t sing like the first one.
Then came Crowfall. Before we get to it, indulge me.
When I was younger, I watched a film where a spaceship (earthship?) was tunneling to the centre of the earth. I can’t remember the name of the film. I think Kurt Russell may have been in it. I had no issues with the spaceship (earthship?) using a laser to dissolve the rock so it could make its descent. I did have an issue with someone at the centre of the earth using a mobile to make a call to the surface. “How do they get reception?” I asked, ignoring the rock-melting laser. I guess it was one step too far for me.
Back to Crowfall.
Of the three, this was the weakest. That doesn’t make it a bad book, it just doesn’t shine as much. The bitter gloriousness of the writing is smudged. Again, there are good action sequences, wonderfully awful monsters and some nice twists. The end sequence was well done, as you would expect from this author.
Why did I struggle?
The main issue was that it was a shade too weird. And of all the oddness, Galharrow’s Misery changes were the main culprit. I know he had a plan. I know he was building towards something. But it was too much, it didn’t seem to fit. I’m not sure why I’m happy with people spinning light from the moons or a talking crow coming out of someone’s arm but not what happened to Galharrow, but there you go. Maybe it was over-stretching the reality. And that weirdness was my rock-melting laser vs phone-reception-at-the-centre-of-the-earth moment. It stuck out too much.
Given how good Blackwing was, producing not one but two books of that calibre was always going to be hard. Ravencry was almost there but Crowfall didn’t make it.
That said, the series is good.
It’s worth reading.
Book One and Two are worth rereading.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Ed McDonald writes next. (I believe he has a new series in the works). In the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the appearance of a Battle-Spinner Rovelle spin off series.
*It didn’t win.