Book Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald


US and UK book covers.

“The sky was sobbing, long purrs of sharp, cold nightmare as the dawn broke. At least the rain had abated.” 
This is a description of the dawn sky over the Misery. There are other descriptions of the Misery involving the wind howling through cracks in the sky, bronze and purple bruise colours and more. Descriptions of the Misery are as elusive to their precise meaning as they are evocative. I love it this way and I’m content not to have a full grasp of what the Misery looks and sounds like – I enjoy the sense of mystery and depth.

The Misery is the region of the land left “polluted” after Nall’s Engine does its worst. The engine is a super weapon with an immense destructive power. It is the only thing that can hold back The Deep Kings, beings with god-like power, their massive armies and other magical nightmares such as the Darlings. The Darlings appear as delightful children that are actually horror novel type creatures with sickening magic that can rip through men and other wielders of magic like the proverbial knife through butter. They feel no remorse.

Our hero Captain Galharrow commands his Blackwings, a group of men and women soldiers and a sorceress in the hopeless defence of their land. It’s hopeless because Nall’s Engine is a hoax – it no longer works and the Deep Kings are learning this. Their armies and agents are moving to conquer.

I love Blackwing as it is a hopeless quest full of emotion with a hero who is downtrodden, a drunk, has lost almost everything he cares about (wife, children) and is but a pawn played with by his masters. His great redeeming quality is that he cares deeply about those under his command and will sacrifice almost anything that is his to save them. They are all he has left to cling onto.

For me, the “Holy Grail” of stories is one that gives me an ending I don’t see coming. Blackwing does just that. Great job Ed!

Normally I find stories written in the first person like Blackwing don’t work that well for me as I know the protagonist who’s words I’m hearing must survive the tale or be speaking from beyond the grave. Given how merciless life is on the wall by the Misery death for Galharrow would seem like a gift. I assume he will never get this gift as he is the narrator.

Blackwing is fine grimdark fantasy with plenty of gruesome scenes that will not suit every reader. Lovers of dark fantasy will have a great time in the Misery.

No question, 5 stars from me.

Book Review: Mistborn The Final Empire

I’ve heard the Mistborn series described as swords and sorcery. It has sorcery “in spades” – the fascinating and innovative Allomancy. Think magical power from metals. I’m not sure the swords part really qualifies. The setting strikes me as more 19th century than the traditional psuedo-medieval worlds we most often find in fantasy. The Final Empire is a fun magical romp through a world broken by past events still shrouded in mystery that I’m keen to penetrate by reading more books in this series.
The overall style and the age of the heroine (16) make me think YA Fantasy but with enough sophistication to appeal to an adult audience. I would have liked more showing in the writing style, especially in action sequences, than the telling we often get. As a result, there were times I felt force fed events rather than experiencing them. I’m done with criticisms now.
The Final Empire was thoroughly enjoyable. The main character Vin is a wonderful blend of strength and naivety with a special but unschooled ability in Allomancy. Her world view is delightfully distorted by her tragic backstory. This gives her an understandable problem trusting anyone and she must overcome this on her quest to end The Final Empire. The Lord Ruler (the Emporer if you will) is immortal and apparently invincible. How can they possibly succeed?
This is a trope Sanderson also uses in Steelheart. If you love Mistborn The Final Empire and have not read Steelheart yet I recommend adding it to your “want to read” list.
Ever envied Spiderman’s ability to swing through the buildings on his web strings? Wait until you discover how the Allomancers use their ability to travel with speed and style…
Vin’s mentor Kelsier teaches her much about Allomancy and sends her to learn from others with different specialist skills. The story never gets bogged down in this training. It’s woven into the storyline. Of course, there are some things a true hero/heroine is going to have to figure out for themselves. Kelsier is a key player in this story are there are many scenes from his point of view. The grand plan at work in this story is his, but he can’t do it alone.
Mistborn The Final Empire takes a street urchin and member of a gang of thieves into a world of nobility and espionage, magic and mist. Vin takes on a second identity, Vallette, the only identity her love interest, a son of the enemy ruling class, knows her by. What could possibly go wrong…
The right questions are answered in this book by the end but there are plenty of others left open for future books. Vin grows as a character but there is still plenty of room to see her grow more.
This is a fantastic story that will keep you guessing until the end – how can you kill the invincible Lord Ruler and exactly what is the power of the eleventh metal?

4.5 stars from me overall, but rounded up to a well deserved 5 for Goodreads etc.

Do you like to write reviews of books on Amazon and/or Goodreads?

Swords and Sorcery with the pace and excitement of a thriller sound good?
I have advance review eBook copies of The General’s Legacy single volume edition available.
My target is to have 10 or more reviews on Goodreads and Amazon in the first few days of release on February 28th, 2018 and more by the end of April.
Super-easy loading process guaranteed to get the book onto whatever eBook reader device you have.
Check out the reviews for the existing two-volume edition here The General’s Legacy, Part One: Inheritance on Goodreads and here The General’s Legacy – Part Two: Whiteland King on Goodreads
Apply here for a review copy and I will reply with details. Alternatively, contact me via a Goodreads message. I will need an email address for you.
Happy reading!

Book review: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

I have another book I rate 5-stars to share with you.
Here is a thoroughly absorbing book best classified in the Steampunk sub-genre of fantasy. In fact, the first Steampunk story I’ve read.
Senlin Ascends is set in a mythical version of The Tower of Babel with apparently Victorian era characters that mostly seem to be quasi-British. We have airships docking at the various “ringdoms” of the tower and many examples of steam powered machinery.

Thomas Senlin is a studious Headmaster lacking somewhat in passion and spark who has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything around him based on what he has read from books. His real-world experience of most things appears absent. Newly married, he brings his young vivacious wife on a honeymoon journey to The Tower of Babel and promptly loses her in the crowded markets around its base as she sets off to find a “scandalous” dress to wear.

Poor Mrs Senlin appears to have to work far too hard to get the kind of attention from her new husband that a bride would expect on her wedding night. She resorts to innuendo – “would the Tower [of Babel] be tall enough to fill the well beneath it” to try and encourage him. Senlin is not a man of action. If he wants to try and find his bride lost somewhere in the 60 levels of the Tower of Babel he will have to become one. Senlin and his wife appear to be poles apart and early in the story, I felt the urge to grab Senlin by the lapels, give him a shake, and yell at him to show some bravado.
Josiah Bancroft is a talented story teller. Long before the end of the story, I realised that is exactly how I’m supposed to feel about Thomas Senlin, at first. But he is destined to ascend not just the tower, but his own claustrophobic limitations. At this point, I will mention that I think the book cover design is a work of genius. Go and take a hard look at it.
Josiah does an incredible job during in the narrative of simultaneously doing many things – building a world of plotting villainous characters, showing the world of the tower seducing Senlin into abandoning the hopeless search for his wife, giving the impression of his wife moving ever further out of reach into a disastrous new life while Senlin is ever more desperate to find her. It’s a little like one of those nightmares where you are trying to reach the door at the end of a corridor that seems to stretch further into the distance the more you strive to try to reach that door.
As it says in the book description, Senlin must become a man of action and that propels the story on a new and more dangerous course.
Senlin Ascends was one of those books where the stuff I have to do in my life got in the way of me reading it. It’s going up there on the shelf next to my other all time favourite books.
If you hold a flintlock pistol to my head and force me to find fault with this book there is just one thing I can come up with.
Early on in the narrative and also during the climax, perhaps when Josiah is trying the most to impress the audience, he might have tried just a tad too hard. I felt there were occasionally a few too many metaphors per page. It’s a subjective opinion that feels a bit like whispering to Michael Angelo that he may have overused that particularly vivid shade of blue he likes in his painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Yep, Senlin Ascends is beautifully and almost poetically written and deserves to be recognized as a classic story in the Steampunk genre.
So far I’ve successfully talked my mother, my wife and one of my friends into buying it. Don’t miss out yourself now!
I’ve moved straight on to reading the next book in this series.

Book Review: Kings of the Wyld

Rating: 5 stars

Kings of the Wyld could be described as the genetically engineered offspring of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, David Gemmell novels (Winter Warriors springs to mind), and the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual.

Kings of the Wyld book cover

A quick note: If you are offended by the frequent use of the “F” word and similar, this book is not for you. It comes up a lot in character dialogue. Considering the setting and characters, it does not feel excessive.

Kings of the Wyld presses my buttons on many levels. Let me start by saying I’m 47 and a portion of my youth was spent playing and “dungeon mastering” the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. Today, I have what you might call a normal life (wife, children, career) aside from the fact I’m also a fantasy author (you can take the man out of the game, but you can’t take the game out of the man). I have a few minor aches and pains, and I’ll never fit in those clothes I wore as a teenager again. This is relevant because…

Kings of the Wyld is about a band (Dungeons and Dragons style adventuring party) of middle-aged overweight and often drunk ex-mercenaries that emerge from what passes as normal retirement to get the band back together.
Their mission – rescue their front man Gabriel’s daughter from inevitable evisceration by almost the entire contents of the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual besieging the city of Castia where she is trapped.
The monstrous ensemble is called the Heartwyld Horde led by the sympathetically tragic Lastleaf – a Druin who seems to be a bit like an elf except with bunny ears. And he rides a Wyvern. I should point out here that this book does not take itself at all seriously except for a few genuinely poignant moments (wipes tear from eye at the memory of the closing scenes). This book has given me so many laughs!

Who are the band?

The hero of this tale is Clay whose inner monster was tamed by a loving wife and a darling daughter. He has long since hung up Blackheart – a wooden shield made out of a Treant – and retired. Then Gabriel comes calling.

Gabriel – divorced father of the damsel in distress and would be wielder of a potent magic sword except that he sold it to the cad now married to his ex-wife.

Then there is the wizard Moog who mourns the loss of his husband to the incurable “rot” disease from which he also suffers. One of the hazards of wondering the Heartwyld. He makes a living as an alchemist selling “Phylactery” which is best described as Viagra in gaseous form. And he lives in a tower that is almost exactly the same shape as a “thingy.” If you wonder what I mean by “thingy” just go back to that Viagra reference and I’m sure you’ll get it. The knocker on the door to his tower is a particularly amusing character named Steve who struggles to speak due to the brass ring in his mouth… and I thought I was cool having a brass dolphin on my front door.

Matrick is the band’s drummer, sorry, knife-wielding warrior thief that somehow became King. The Queen has managed to produce 5 heirs to the throne, none of them fathered by Matrick himself and, oh yes, the Queen wants him dead. Extracting him from his former life to reform the band is trickier than you might think…

Lastly, there is Ganelon who is remarkably forgiving of the fact his former bandmates left him in a quarry turned to stone by a Basilisk for 20 years.

Other characters help and hinder them on the way, and I shall always remember the Ettin Dane and Gregor with fondness. (An Ettin is a two-headed giant in case you’re wondering).

After suffering the indignity of being robbed by a band of girls named the Silk Arrows (twice!), the band’s expedition takes them through the Heartwyld that is still remarkably full of trouble considering so many of its denizens surround Castia for the whole story. The trip is complicated by the fact Matrick’s wife (the Queen) hired a bounty hunter to assassinate him. Is the bounty hunter a shadowy figure in a hooded cloak? Bobba Fett’s twin brother? Nope. A bad-ass Daeva – false god nightmare of a winged woman with her own band of red-robed monks held in her thrall all riding in a skyship!

This story is chock full of humour, monsters, magic and magical weaponry, more monsters and touching moments. And touching moments with monsters (some of them wielding magical weaponry). If you’ve ever wished you could read a story with a wondrous variety of monsters all doing their worst, Kings of the Wyld is like a bowl of every flavour ice cream with a chocolate flake stuck in it plus syrup and those little coloured sugar tubes on top (I know them as hundreds and thousands). There are probably some marshmallows jammed in there somewhere too. Pure indulgence.

Of course, none of this would be worth our reading time or the 5th star if it were not woven into a compelling story. Make no mistake; this is not a regurgitated video or role-playing game. As a student of story craft myself, I know a well-structured story when I read one, and they are not found in the fantasy genre often enough. Nicholas Eames knows his stuff – the story twists, turns and pinches in all the places it must to cast its spell over any fantasy fan even if they never played Dungeons and Dragons. It’s been a very long time since I last enjoyed reading a book this much. Count me in for the sequels.

If all this were not enough, Kings of the Wyld asks one of life’s most compelling questions. The answer to which the wizard Moog and every child under the age of 8 already knows…
Do owlbears actually exist?

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It is release day for The General’s Legacy – Part One Inheritance

Electronic copies started zinging (in a silent photon or electron kind of way) around the internet last night onto people’s Kindles and iBook devices. I know I have at least a few buyers on these two platforms and will learn what has happened on Nook and Kobo later.

One of my advance review readers has come up trumps and posted their review this morning. I’m always fascinated by the different perspective people have on the story.

Here is the review on



Legend – one of those books I read a three quarters of a lifetime ago but still remember today. I’ve only ever read two books twice, I might have to make this the third. I suspect there is at least a little bit of Druss the Legend’s DNA running inside the veins of Garon, the old general in The General’s Legacy.


Flashback Friday is something I do here at Bookwraiths every once in a while; a time when I can post my thoughts about books that I’ve read in the past but never gotten around to reviewing. With the hectic schedule of day-to-day life and trying to review new releases, there never seems enough time to give these old favorites the spotlight that they deserve. But with a day all to themselves, there is no reason I can’t revisit them, so let’s take a look at a fun fantasy series, which would make a great summer read.


Legend by David Gemmell 

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Drenai Saga #1 

Publisher: Ballantine Books (November 1994)

Length: 345 pages

My Rating: 4 stars

David Gemmell might not have invented action adventure fantasy, but he refined it, polished it up, and presented his updated version (Against the Horde/Legend) in 1984 to a reading…

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Fantasy / sci-fi book review: The Rogue Retrieval


Throw a traditional pseudo-medieval fantasy into a pot along with Stargate and season with a dash of Avatar, and you have some idea of what is in store in The Rogue Retrieval.

Attracted by the dramatic concept of a Las Vegas performing illusionist come magician entering a fantasy world where he would need to be convincing alongside those who do magic for real, The Rogue Retrieval was an impulse buy for me. I was also charmed by the book’s opening where Quinn, the aforementioned magician, on the cusp of hitting the big time in Vegas, is hauled off on this crazy mission to another world through a portal on a remote Pacific island.

Richard Holt, a research scientist who knows more about the fantasy world of Alisia than anyone, has gone AWOL in this world and Case Global, the corporation who sent him there want him back.

If you are a regular fantasy reader the world of Alisia doesn’t bring anything new as a fantasy world that stands out, the twist is the people of Earth reconstructing medieval weapons with modern technology and otherwise hiding modern technology as they enter this world.

The highlights of the story are always when the protagonist, Quinn, has to use his stage magic to get himself or the team out of whatever scrape they have gotten into in Alissia.  A skilled sleight of hand expert in the team also creates scope for humour – I smiled a few times at Quinn’s antics.

There is a major plot twist about halfway through the story that I did see coming, but it was fitting and the right thing to do with this story and this world. The plot twist does take the wind out of the sails of the plot a bit, as the goal for the heroes becomes get home again.  Quinn does take an extended excursion somewhere special where he gets to explore his magic in ways he would never be able to do back on Earth.

It was fun visiting Alissia, in particular through Quinn’s eyes and my hope for future books in this series would be stronger and more drama filled plots with clearer and more meaningful plot points, twists and turns. As a regular fantasy reader, I also have a taste for writing that immerses me in the setting and plot. By this I mean – show, don’t tell. The writing style is heavy on telling what is going on rather than showing the reader. As Anton Chekhov put it “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Sometimes little details about the culture and behaviour of the Alissian’s is told that the characters in the scene would not know as we have not seen them see it, and are not essential to the plot anyway. For example; why tell the reader an Alissian’s snuff box is as private as a wallet or purse? By all means show it as a way of adding flavour and realism to the setting. Otherwise, we don’t need to know. The telling not showing issue also, for me, robs battle scenes of some of their impact, and there are some good battle scenes.

Quinn’s antics, the hint of conspiracy not yet fully visible and the position Quinn finds himself in by the end of the book do make me curious to read future installments, but The Rogue Retrieval doesn’t make the 5th star grade for my tastes.

Well done to Dan Koblot for bringing something just a bit different to the fantasy genre, although it is more accurate to call it fantasy sci-fi.