Review: A Blight of Blackwings by Kevin Hearne

Review: A Blight of Blackwings by Kevin HearneA Blight of Blackwings (Seven Kennings, #2) by Kevin Hearne
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Seven Kennings #2
Pages: 512
Published by Orbit on February 6, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling creator of The Iron Druid Chronicles comes the highly anticipated sequel to A Plague of Giants: A world-breaking war--an invasion of giant warriors--that inspires a movement to fight back.

SOLDIER AND AVENGER Daryck is from a city that was devastated by the war with the Bone Giants, and now he and a band of warriors seek revenge against the giants for the loved ones they lost. But will vengeance be enough to salve their grief?

DREAMER AND LEADER Hanima is part of a new generation with extraordinary magical talents: She can speak to fantastical animals. But when this gift becomes a threat to the powers-that-be, Hanima becomes the leader of a movement to use this magic to bring power to the people.

SISTER AND SEEKER Koesha is the captain of an all-female crew on a perilous voyage to explore unknown waters. Though Koesha's crew is seeking a path around the globe, Koesha is also looking for her sister, lost at sea two years ago. But what lies beyond the edges of the map is far more dangerous than storms and sea monsters. . . .

In this sequel to A Plague of Giants, these characters and more will become the voices of a new generation bringing hope and revolution to a war-torn world.

My Review:

Like the character Dervan in this story, I became so caught up in the tale as it unfolded that I wanted spoilers! Or at least I wanted Fintan the Bard to get on with it a whole lot faster. Which meant that as much as I love the audio version of this story, I switched to the book at about the ⅓ point just so I could find out what happened next. And next after that. And after that. And so on right until barreling through to the end, even knowing that this story as a whole is not done yet.

Dammit.

Just as in the first book in the series, the extremely awesome and utterly marvelous A Plague of Giants, the story that we are reading is mostly the story itself being told by Fintan the Bard to the crowd camped on Survivors’ Field in Pelemyn. The people who survived the events of the first part of the story and fetched up in Pelemyn as refugees from the multiple crises that have afflicted Teldwyn.

Not just one but two plagues of giants.

The title of this entry in the series is a tad more subtle. The book A Plague of Giants contained actual plagues of giants, after all. But the blight of blackwings referred to this time is not a literal plague of the same sort.

Instead, a blight of blackwings feels like it’s the equivalent of “a murder of crows,” or “an unkindness of ravens.” Or possibly both, as the blackwings of Teldwyn occupy the same niche as crows and ravens do. They are carrion birds. They eat the dead, and they feast after a battle.

They also hover over trouble in the hopes that said trouble will result in some dead for them to eat. Hopefully soon, from their perspective. Which means that if you are a human blessed by the sixth kenning, and your gift is communication with blackwings, you can spot trouble coming before your blackwings get a meal.

And that’s the story of A Blight of Blackwings, the spotting of trouble on the horizon. However, just like in A Plague of Giants, there are lots of blackwings hovering over trouble in lots of places. A concept which the UK cover for the book makes much more clear!

With even more on the horizon by the end of this portion of the Bard’s tale. And it’s awesome every step of the way. For multiple definitions of the word “awe”.

UK cover

Escape Rating A++: To paraphrase Hanima the Hivemistress, this book is the BEST!

This is a huge story, covering an entire world. You do have to have read A Plague of Giants to get into A Blight of Blackwings. If you love epic fantasy you’ll be glad you did. This world-spanning story is a real treat.

That being said, it’s necessary to talk about what makes it such a treat.

A big part of that for me was that the author’s experiment in voice really worked. The author said that he was trying to recreate the feeling of the old bardic tales as Homer used to tell them. While we don’t know what that was really like, what he has created here turns out to be a fascinating way of telling a big story with a huge cast of characters while making sure all of those threads are easy to follow.

The framing story is that Fintan the Bard is telling the tales using the voices and faces of the people who experienced each part, strung together with a bit of what is going on in the city through the eyes of Dervan, the chronicler and confidant of the city’s ruler. So we see what has happened in the past through Fintan’s tale, and what is happening in the present through Dervan’s first-person asides.

I will also say here that the two voice actors do a terrific job of making all of the voices distinct. Even when I switched to reading the ebook I was still hearing their voices in my head and it definitely helped form my picture of who each of the different characters was.

The invention of the “kennings” the magic of this world, is a new take on the whole magic in fantasy idea, and the way that it works underpins the politics and people’s perspective on their world. On the one hand, there’s the sense that the kennings kind of function like the old saying about when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, just writ very, very large.

At the same time those kennings underpin both politics and religion, so the discovery of a sixth and possibly even a seventh upsets a whole fleet of apple carts.

One other thing that makes this magic system different is the price that is paid to wield it. One of the terrible things that frequently happens in other magic systems is that magic is either the ultimate power or so easy to use that everyone gets lazy. The cost of magic in this world is extremely dear, both to acquire it and to use it. Magic users always have to think about whether the ends they have to achieve justify the loss of years of their lives. Perhaps even all the years they have left.

This is also a story where the use of language can shock you with it’s terrible beauty. After discovering that his entire town has been slaughtered in his absence, the leader of a band of hunters reflects that, “Most of us were still in the shock stages of grief, the foyer to a mansion of pain in which I knew we’d dwell for many years. Just beyond, however, a red room beckoned, a spacious expanse for rage, and I had little doubt the entire band would step in there with me for an extended period.” I was struck by that phrase, and chilled by an intense feeling of recognition. It feels right and true and haunting in the vividness of the image. A haunting that returned every time that character refers back to it. Because he’s right, they are all heading for that red room of rage – and possibly taking the rest of the country with them.

We’ll find out in book 3 of the series, tentatively titled A Curse of Krakens. I want it so bad, and I want it now! But I expect I’ll have to wait a couple of years, based on the time between A Plague of Giants and A Blight of Blackwings. And it will be SO worth it!

Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin HearneA Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Seven Kennings #1
Pages: 618
Published by Del Rey Books on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the start of a compelling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Druid Chronicles creates an unforgettable fantasy world of warring giants and elemental magic.

In the city of Pelemyn, Fintan the bard takes to the stage to tell what really happened the night the giants came . . .

From the east came the Bone Giants, from the south, the fire-wielding Hathrim - an invasion that sparked war across the six nations of Teldwen. The kingdom's only hope is the discovery of a new form of magic that calls the world's wondrous beasts to fight by the side of humankind.

My Review:

This is a book to savor. It’s very long and incredibly involved and left me with a marvelously horrible book hangover. And I loved every minute of it.

There’s no singular hero in A Plague of Giants, although there are plenty of people who do heroic things. But there’s no Frodo or Aragorn or Harry to lead the charge.

Instead, we have Fintan the bard, who may have participated in a few bits of the story, but who is not the hero. Fintan is the one telling the tale, using all of the powers at his command as a master of the bardic arts. But it is not his story that he tells. Instead, it is the story of every person in Teldwen whose life has been uprooted, or ended, by the invasion of not one but two armies of giants bent on conquest.

Even one army of giants is not enough to make this big of a mess of a the world.

At least one set of giants is known. And their motives are understandable, even if their methods are often brutal. The Hathrim are masters of fire, but even their cities can be overwhelmed when a dormant volcano wakes up. But they are masters enough of their element that they could see it coming in time to evacuate. Their plan is to use the tragedy as an opportunity to carve out new, resource-rich lands on the mainland.

But they lands they choose, while currently unoccupied, are not unowned. And border on the lands of their natural enemies. If the Hathrim are masters of fire, the Fornish are masters of woodcraft and forest lore. The trees that the Hathrim view as mere fuel for their fires, the Fornish see as sacred.

The Hathrim fire mastery and the Fornish command of all that grows in the land are merely two of the seven kennings of the series title. Three of the other kennings are the standard ones of so much fantasy and mythology; air, water and earth. Just as the Hathrim are fire masters, the Raelech are masters of the earth, the Brynts are water masters, and the Nentians have the mastery of the air.

But in the face of the invasion from both the known and feared Hathrim and the unknown and even more fearsome “Bone Giants” the sixth kenning finally appears. Just as the Fornish have power over all plants that grow, the first speakers of this new, sixth kenning have control over all animal life, from the smallest insect to the largest beast.

And the Bone Giants have invaded in search of the elusive seventh kenning, which no one has ever seen, heard of, or even speculated about. But whatever it may be, the Bone Giants are laying waste to vast swaths of Teldwen in order to locate it. Whatever and wherever it might be.

The story that Fintan the bard tells is the story of every person of every nation who becomes instrumental in the fight against both sets of terrible giants – and the story of the giants as well.

A Plague of Giants is an epic tale told by a master storyteller. And it is far from over.

Escape Rating A+: I absolutely loved A Plague of Giants. Which makes it very hard to write a review. Unless I just squee. A lot.

This both is and isn’t like a typical epic fantasy book. Yes, it’s long and has a huge cast of characters, so that part is very like. But it’s different in a couple of key aspects.

First, instead of being a narrative quasi-history, this is the story itself being told by its partipants, through the means of the bard’s magic. We’re not reading a history or quasi-history, instead Fintan is reciting events for his crowd of listeners in the words and images of the principal participant. It feels different.

The author Kevin Hearne said that he was trying to recreate the feeling of the old bardic tales as Homer used to tell them. I can’t say whether he succeeded, but he certainly has created something different. And compelling.

There’s something about the way that Fintan tells the story that reminds me of Kvothe in The Name of the Wind. I’m not sure why, but it just does.

Another difference in A Plague of Giants is that there are no clear heroes, and not really any clear villains, either. Not that one of the characters isn’t villainous, but he’s far from being a mover and shaker on either side.

We are able to see the story from the Hathrim point of view and it’s obvious that from their own perspective they are not evil. They think they are doing right by their own people, and don’t particularly care who they have to lie to or mow down to accomplish their goals. But it feels like real-politik, not evil.

Even the Bone Giants don’t think they are evil. Not that they don’t commit plenty of seemingly evil actions. But we don’t yet know enough to know what motivates them. So far, at least, it is not evil for evil’s sake. It looks like religious fanaticism, but even that isn’t certain. And we know that they think they have been provoked. (And there is something about their unknown nature and implacability that reminds me a bit of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera. But I’m not certain of the why of that reminder either, just that it feels right.)

Fintan is not the hero, and does not intend to be. It’s his job to tell the story – not to fix it. Whether anyone else will emerge as the hero is anyone’s guess at this point.

Each of the individuals that Fintan portrays does an excellent job of both representing their people and illustrating their own portion of what has become a world-spanning story. Some of them stand out more than others. Some of them survive, where others do not. But their heroic acts are confined to their small piece of the puzzle.

At the same time, the flow from one character to another, and from one day to another of Fintan’s telling of the tale, is surprisingly compelling. With the end of each tale, the reader (or at least this reader) is incapable of resisting the compulsion to find out just a bit more.

I still feel compelled. The second book in the series will be titled A Blight of Blackwings, when it is published at some future unspecified date. And I want it now. Impatiently. Passionately. Desperately.