Ed McDonald does something remarkable with Crowfall. Crowfall is the third (and presumably final) book in his stellar Raven’s Mark series. Third books—especially third books that close a series—follow a certain pattern. The first book sets up the world; the second book in particular sets up the story for the third book. That is certainly true here. But McDonald places a major event—the titular Crowfall—in the six year gap between the events of Ravencry and Crowfall. Doing so helps him sneak a staggering amount of worldbuilding into a third book. It is both novel and enormously successful. Book 3 includes everything that makes the first two books great, enhances book 2 with some additional explanation of what happened there, and adds new, wonderful stuff all its own. The Raven’s Mark series is absolutely now one of my favorite series.
If you haven’t read book 1, Blackwing, do so as soon as possible. Well, read my review first, but then read it asap. For those of you who have read books 1 and 2, read on for my lightly spoilery review of book 3.
Six years have passed since the events of Ravencry. It has not been an uneventful six years. During that six years came the Crowfall, when Crowfoot tore the sky apart afresh in another attempt to stymie the Deep Kings.
It had begun as a day like any other, and then—madness. For a day and a night, nothing made sense. Colours flickered and blended together. Cold water boiled away into nothing, hot water froze into ice. Birds fell from the sky, trees burst into bloom before withering to dry, empty husks. There was no reason behind it. The effects were inconsistent even between one footstep and another.
When it was all over, things did not go back to normal. Geese are now fanged and carnivorous. Apples and pumpkins are no longer edible, and corn grows black on the stalk. Worst of all, every eleven days, without fail, the black rains come. Get caught out in the rain and it will burn your skin. And worse. The rain drives men mad.
For six years Galharrow has soaked up the poison and magic of the Misery, becoming the Misery’s Son, hunted by his enemies, feared by his allies. He is “stronger and faster than a man of half [his] years” and able to survive months where no natural thing should survive more than days. It has turned his nails black and his skin copper and made his eyes glow.
Acradius now styles himself the Deep Emperor and wields a portion of the might of The Sleeper. The other Deep Kings subjugated, he is coming for the weakened Nameless.
Yeah, it has been an eventful six years.
That is a lot of exposition, and a lot of previously-happened pulled into a present narrative. In the hands of a less skilled storyteller it could have really backfired. But McDonald shows great craft in weaving it in, giving it to us in drips and drabs, and it really, really works.
On the Range, things are never truly quiet. There are only lulls before the next storm. We have seen two of those “storms.” The Crowfall was another. You can bet a fourth is coming.
One catalyst is Acradius. Another is a triple eclipse—something that occurs only once every nine hundred and eighty-two years. In a world where the moons power magic that is a very big deal. And, of course, Crowfoot has a plan. It involves the heart of an ice fiend, “a primeval, ancient thing of immeasurable power, a beast from a forgotten world.” A heart that is both a thing of great power itself and capable of absorbing a truly immense amount of magic.
But the Nameless are desperate, and desperate gods do even more desperate things than desperate men. The Lady of the Waves and Shallowgrave were absent in the first two books but play an active role here.
I described the first two books at grimdark with hope, and that description holds for book 3. It is a crapsack world. The Nameless are not the friendliest of allies or most benevolent of patrons. Galharrow is a hard man made only harder by the Misery. His past (which we learn more about) is dark. But Galharrow always a way to fight for what is right, and McDonald always gives us some glimmer of hope in the midst of all of the misery.
Whatever else, McDonald can always write a few good lines:
“In all the blades you’ve swung and bones you’ve cracked, all the arrows and the cannon fire and the disease and the gangrene, all the Spinners and Engines and Deep Kings, you ever know death to take those that deserve it first?”
“I ducked down, reached back, and snagged the whisky bottle. Still had a pistol left, and so long as you have whisky and a gun, how bad can your luck be?”
“The commanders wouldn’t take kindly to a massacre taking place so near their fortresses, or to their being soldiers amongst the dead. Not good soldiers, but soldiers nonetheless, and pointing out that it was only a small massacre was a poor defence. Degrees of scale don’t seem to matter much where a massacre is concerned.”
5 of 5 Stars.
Crowfall is out July 2d in the US and is available for preorder at Amazon.
Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a review copy of Crowfall via NetGalley.