CROWFALL by Ed McDonald (Book Review)
The Good: Above and beyond the compelling characters and punchy plot, this is a book that keeps you guessing right up until the final page.
The Bad: As with Ravencry, Crowfall embarks on an entirely new direction to a destination that I hadn’t anticipated – some readers may dislike this, but I for one am happy to hop on the bandwagon.
The Ugly Truth: Crowfall takes everything you would expect of this book and tears it up right in front of you, before handing you something you would never have dreamt up, even in the wildest of Misery-fuelled nightmares. And it’s amazing for it!
The Review: Crowfall is the third and final instalment in Ed McDonald’s award-winning Raven’s Mark trilogy, published by Gollancz in the UK and Ace Roc in the US.
As this is a continuation of the series, this review includes minor spoilers for Blackwing and Ravencry.
Blackwing captain Ryhalt Galharrow has withdrawn from the world. After consuming the essence of the Misery – namely the creatures that roam it – he now resides in semi self-imposed exile in the apocalyptic wastelands. But when the Nameless come calling, its down to him and his erstwhile allies to make one last stand against a threat far greater than the Deep Kings ever posed. To save the future of mankind, Ryhalt and co will have to uncover the secrets of the past, the ghosts of yesterday, and the origin of the Misery itself. But staring into the looking glass casts a reflection, and when the person looking back at you is more a monster than those you’re fighting, even a hero has to ask if it’s worth it…
I thoroughly enjoyed Crowfall, in the same way I enjoyed Blackwing and Ravencry. Which, when I think about it, is a little bit mad. Each book is a continuation of the last in the series, but they all have something inherently different in terms of structure and story that marks them apart. This isn’t a bad thing – no, no! – but it is a departure from the typical setup in most fantasy trilogies. In a way, the Raven’s Mark trilogy is similar to RJ Barker’s Wounded Kingdom series in this sense, in that each book is almost a standalone novel, and could potentially be read out of sequence (though this would certainly have massive spoiler implications).
In my review of Ravencry I called Galharrow fantasy’s answer to DCI Luther. In essence this is still true of Crowfall, but here we have an older (though not necessarily wiser) character, whose internal struggles play as big a part in the narrative as the external conflict that threatens the world as we know it.
On that note, Crowfall continues to push the boundaries even beyond the uncharted fathoms of its own world-building. That being said, it feels like we are only seeing what’s on the surface when it comes to certain elements (such at the Nameless, the Deep Kings), and there are plenty more depths to plumb.
The story and setting is still gloriously grim and deliciously dark, but the tag associated with the series—‘grimdark with heart’—has never been more fitting than it is here. McDonald has said previously that this is a love story with swords, and this story really embraces that theme. Not just a love of a romantic partner, but of friends, and family, and friends who become family. Crowfall is also darker – and I would argue more ‘mature’ in its emotional exploration – than the rest of the series, and I think that reflects McDonald’s continued growth as a writer. I would say, that for some readers, especially those expecting a hack’n’slash to the finish across the dystopian wastes, this might not be what you planned for. It’s not necessarily the book we wanted, but it’s definitely the book we needed in terms of breaking out of the mould set by its predecessors, and fantasy as a whole (especially when it comes to ‘the end’ of a series).
As the saying goes, it is always darkest before the dawn, and while Crowfall plunges into the pitch black of nightmare, the light at its heart is as fierce as the sun. For me, this was a brave and bold new direction (again) which led to a destination I hadn’t necessarily expected but was thoroughly impressed with. Here is a story and an author who takes risks, even when the stakes are this high, and has the chops to see them through. In my honest opinion, McDonald has delivered on all accounts, covering a lot (and I mean a lot) of ground in the Raven’s Mark series, and I for one can’t wait to see where he takes readers next.