(cover design by Dan Smith)
I didn’t love Blackwing and I could never quite put my finger on why. It had everything I wanted from a fantasy novel. A richly imagined world, a detailed system of magic and deities, plenty of grey areas, kick-arse ladies, weird creatures, hope, despair, misdirection and a talking raven tattoo. Normally I’m a sucker for the hulking thug-with-a-heart-of-gold protagonist too, and in that respect Galharrow should have been love at first sight. So what was missing?
As it turns out, it was I that was missing the point.
While I was eager to read Ravencry for the story, I went through three quarters of this book too without really falling in love. Where was the spark? Alas for me that it happened so late, but it was almost worth it for that moment of revelation where everything clicked into place.
Because it is written in first person, from Galharrow’s point of view, I fell into the trap of assuming that the Blackwing Captain was the main character and I think this made me expect something of him. What it is that I expected was largely ineffable. Some growth maybe? But all his significant growth happened in his youth and he really had nowhere left to go except doggedly forwards.
A big picture viewpoint? But all he really cared about was the individual people he loved. And that was the spark right there that I had been missing all along. The book is not about Galharrow at all, or even about wars or Deep Kings or Nameless powers. It is about the people that he loves so fiercely that he would quite literally walk through fire for. It is his point of view that must tell the story because only he is there to tell theirs. It is about his relationships and his actions so much more than it is about his intentions or self-image. It is not about the gods that use them or the suffering that the world inflicts upon them, but about the actions that all of these magnificent people choose to take in spite of all that and about the difference that can be made when someone really truly cares about someone else.
Somehow, amidst the death and the misery and the open brutal truth of the worst of human nature, I found a message of hope and I suddenly believed that no matter the odds or the distance or the suffering in between, Galharrow would be there for the people he loved in whatever way he could. And that is a protagonist worth loving.