The Black Hawks

The Black Hawks - David Wragg

[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A decent fantasy story, although not what I was led to believe it would be—scratch that as another victim of the Misleading Blurb? (What I mean is that, if you sell me fantasy as “hilarious”, I’ll expect something that’ll really make me laugh, like Discworld. Which is not what we have here.) So, yes, please, people who write blurbs, stop doing that; you’re doing these books quite a disservice.

Anyway. As I was saying, the story is “decent”, as in it’s not going to revolutionise fantasy for sure, but remains entertaining. The world-building is on the generic side: easy to understand, no need for pages of exposition about how magic works, etc., and the geopolitics is introduced through events and dialogues.

My problems with this novel are, firstly, the main characters. The prince is pretty much a whiner all along, and not particularly interesting; whether he opened his mouth or not, it was all the same for me. Chel had a more exciting beginning—sworn to someone who basically swindled him out of his heritage through marriage, forced to run errands rather than be an actual knight, and liable to jump into whatever he can find, probably because he’s bored to death. The issue with him, though, is that he ends up wounded fairly early in the story, and stays like that for a while, which means he’s out of commission for anything fighting- or action-related. Add this to the second problem, a.k.a. travel fantasy, which I often have with such stories, and let’s just say it really doesn’t help.

(I don’t review fantasy very often, so I’m not sure I mentioned it in a previous review, but I have a weird relationship with stories where a good deal of the plot is devoted to travelling—and that’s as a writer as well! I got introduced to fantasy precisely through this—LOTR, I’m looking at you—and I keep gravitating towards such stories, yet at the same time, they also tend to bore me easily, because apart from the occasional wolf/bandit/assassin attack in the forest/mountains, not much else is happening. Here, the fight scenes themselves are good, there’s tension and blood and people do get hurt; but what’s in between tended to bore me.)

As for the Black Hawks themselves, they did have their interesting sides as well. Some light is shed on them throughout the story, a lot more mystery remains at the end, to be developed in the next volume(s) I hope, and in general, they were of the (somewhat magnificent) bastard kind, which is something I enjoy: unlikeable as people, yet likeable when it comes to following their antics.

On the other hand, the cliffhanger at the end was not one I appreciated. The twist was surprising (perhaps a little on the cliché side), but the cliffhanger was definitely too abrupt, as if a couple of chapters were missing from the book.