It’s six years after the events of Ravencry and Blackwing Captain Ryhalt Galharrow is altogether transformed by the steps he’s taken to defend his loved ones and the people of Valengrad against the increasing power of the Deep Kings, now conquered from within and united under Deep Emperor Akradius. To make matters worse, the power of the Nameless is broken, the mage Crowfoot is close to death following a cataclysmic event known as the Crowfall, and the captains of each of the Nameless are dying, probably being murdered, one by one, and the power of the mages wanes as the Deep Kings prepare their final assault.
I’m a wreck. This book has broken me. Every time I think Ed McDonald has done everything possible to push Galharrow to his absolute limits and beyond, he finds a way to make everything so much more harrowing. In the final book in the trilogy we find Galharrow living in the Misery. Living in it. That post-apocalyptic, sentient wasteland where nothing grows, whose horrifying denizens will eat the living flesh from your bones and where the land itself is alive enough to want you dead. After how things ended in the last book, Galharrow has almost become a part of the Misery, offering himself up to it, feeding it with his own blood, which it seems to have accepted in return for allowing him to co-exist with it in some really fucked up way. Right from the start of this series I admired Ryhalt Galharrow, a self-loathing hero who carries the weight of the world’s troubles on his shoulders and never, ever shies away from what needs to be done, no matter the personal cost to himself. And he’s paid a heavy price for what he’s become. It’s honestly difficult to say if he’s even still fully human at this point after what the Misery has turned him into, but even if he isn’t entirely human, his humanity is certainly still intact.
We spend a lot of time in the Misery in Crowfall. McDonald delves into its twisted history and the sacrifices made by the people who used to live there, killed by Crowfoot as collateral damage in his amoral campaign against the onslaught of the Deep Kings. Not that Crowfoot gave them a choice about their sacrifice. I think it was in Crowfall where I really grasped the amorality of the Nameless. I’d always known of course that they were far beyond the realms of human emotions like compassion or empathy, but I think I’d waved away my concerns because, well, Galharrow is Crowfoot’s captain, so even if they aren’t exactly ‘the good guys’, then at least they’re the ones with the power and ability to fight against the Deep Kings, who are arguably much worse. Here though, we finally start to get a bit of backstory about how Galharrow came to be a Blackwing captain in the first place and that, combined with what I already knew, actually made me question if the Nameless really are any better than the Deep Kings at all. It raises a lot of questions about lesser evilism and whose interests we’re really serving when we compromise our principles in service to those who claim things can’t be any better than what they’re offering.
As always with The Raven’s Mark book, it’s the characters and their relationships, both with each other and with themselves, that are the heart of Crowfall. Galharrow hurtles down the path to what he sees to be inevitable doom, but not without a plan. Dantry and Gleck remains off screen for a decent chunk of the beginning of the book, conducting bombings of civilian phos mills that don’t always leave innocents unharmed. We’re not privy to why this is happening to begin with, and Galharrow himself is very tight-lipped about it, but we’re led to believe it’s part of an over-arching plan to at least attempt to defeat the Deep Kings, though at no point does Galharrow himself ever believe it can work. But that’s one of the best themes of this series for me – that no matter how hopeless you deem a struggle to be, what can you do but fight. Even in the face of insurmountable odds and almost certain doom, Galharrow never gives up. It’s that resilience, while also always keeping in mind the reasons he’s fighting and the people he’s fighting for, that make him such a compelling character, and one of the few characters in the grimdark canon that I 100% rooted for simply for being a good person. This was everything I could have asked for as a resolution to this series. The Raven’s Mark as a whole is actually one of the best trilogies I’ve ever read. It’s perfect and I wouldn’t change a thing.
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