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.
“Corruption doesn’t take root in isolation, it embeds itself where the soil is fertile.”
Ed McDonald just made it to my list of favorite fantasy authors with this series!
To be honest i spent some to get use to Ed’s writing style and some of the terms referred to in the book (such as “skweams”, “drudge”, Spinners, “Darlings” and etc). After getting through the first few chapters, you will basically get an idea of these terms as well as the magic system of the world. Ed is a writer who trusts his readers and just sets out all the elements of the world and magic system right at your face. There’s not much info dumping or very detailed examination on the magic system. You just have to get through it and figure it out by yourself throughout the book. After getting a hang of it, you will note that the magic system in this world is very interesting, creative and original! We have Spinners who are able to manipulate light energy into magic, Darlings who are able to control one’s mind, Brides who are able to control one’s lust and feed on it, the Nameless who are basically godlike wizards and other strange monsters in roaming around Misery (a toxic wasteland).
Ed’s writing style is also very poetic and at times, lyrical. His infamous quote below just hits me real hard!
“The world is a cruel mother, a matron of darkness, selfishness, greed, and misery. For most, their time suckling at her breast is naught but a scramble through stinging, tearing briars before a naked, shameful collapse as the flesh gives out. And yet in the bright eyes of every newborn, there lies a spark, a potential for goodness, the possibility of a life worth living. That spark deserves its chance. And though most of them will turn out to be as worthless as the parents who sired them, while the cruelty of the earth will tell them to release their innocence and join in the drawing of daggers, every now and then one manages to clutch to its beauty and refuses to release it into the dark.”
Moving on to the characters. At first I thought there is not much characterization of the characters as the whole story is told from the POV of Ryhalt Galharrow. But throughout the book we can see that although he is a tough and cruel captain of the Blackwing, he is struggling with his past and has a soft spot for the weak. Ezabeth’s character is also very well executed and her powers (she is a very talented Spinner) are so so cool!
In short, this is a strong debut for Ed McDonald and i’ll give it a 9/10 star rating. Already immersed myself into the second book of the series (Ravencry) during the lockdown period in Malaysia!