Fuck me this book is incredible. I loved Blackwing, but the sequel surpasses it on almost every level. Ravencry opens around four years after the harrowing events of book one, events that have left Blackwing Captain Ryhalt Galharrow much changed. Grieving for Ezabeth, hitting the bottle too hard and unwilling to let go of her memory and move on. But the forces of McDonald’s grim, merciless world aren’t done with Galharrow yet.
A new power is rising in Valengrad, a cult calling themselves the Order of the Bright Lady, who worship a ghost in the light that manifests as visions all across the city. As the Order grows in power and the political situation in the city becomes ever more unstable, Galharrow is called upon by the mage Crowfoot once again when his arcane vault is breached and an artefact of untold power is stolen from him. It shouldn’t be possible. Galharrow knows that anyone, or anything, capable of breaching Crowfoot’s vault must be a sorcerer of immense and incalculable power and going after them is likely a suicide mission. You can bet your ass Crowfoot doesn’t care though, and dispatches Galharrow to find the culprit and retrieve the artefact before it can be put to use. All the while the Deep Kings begin bombing Valengrad into the ground from afar and Galharrow suspects they’re amassing another force for one final assault on the Nameless and the people under their protection, such as it is. Galharrow’s search ultimately leads him where no one in their right mind has any business going – into the very heart of the Misery itself.
Galharrow is one of the most unique and compelling protagonists of any fantasy book I’ve read in recent years and Ed McDonald has managed something grimdark rarely achieves, or even attempts – a protagonist who is fundamentally a decent, good person. Which makes it even more heartbreaking that he’s so full of self-loathing and thinks he’s such a piece of shit, when what he goes through to try and save the people he loves is some next level harrowing stuff. One thing I never expect from grimdark is to be moved to tears and there are a bunch of moments in this book where I actually felt myself welling up, and that’s cos McDonald really conveys the misery and seeming hopelessness of this world, and the evil forces at work, and lets us experience it through the actions and sheer determination of this good person who is incapable of seeing himself as such, but is constantly fighting against the forces arrayed against him. That’s hardly the only emotion I felt reading Ravencry though. I went through it all, the whole kit and caboodle. From curiosity at the central mystery that kept me hooked from the get go, to heart-pounding excitement and suspense at some of the action scenes and stand-offs, right through to sheer horror at the exploration of the Misery and its varied beasts and creatures that I find genuinely disconcerting.
I feel like everything about this book just feels like something new in grimdark. The character set-up, the sheer heart of it (I’ve seen it describes ad grimheart haha, and as much as I don’t think we need anymore subgenres of subgenres, it kind of describes this series very well) and also the setting, which continues to intrigue. A world seemingly on the cusp of industrialisation, sorcery and low magic mixing with a kind-of-but-not-quite dieselpunk world of neon lights, phos-powered contraptions and matchlock rifles. And the Misery itself adds a layer of horror to the mix, both psychological and physical. I honestly can’t recommend these books highly enough, even to people who don’t ordinarily consider themselves grimdark fans. Galharrow is unrepentantly the good guy, and yet he’s troubled and flawed and complex and all those words, and you root for him so hard. These books are examples of where the usefulness of assigning a specific subgenre begins to break down I think; I’d hate for someone who avoids grimdark specifically, but may enjoy some darker fantasy and horror to think this book isn’t for them. Simply put, these books are something special and unique and I can’t express enough how much I love them. I’ve already read the final book at the time of writing this review and honestly, I just want to go and read them all over again. Phenomenal stuff.
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