We’ve got a lot of great new fantasy books of 2019 to look forward to, but one of my most hotly anticipated releases is easily Crowfall. The final book in the Raven’s Mark series, it promises to bring with it another immersive and deeply satisfying outing into Ed McDonald’s grimdark fantasy world. The Raven’s Mark series is definitely a saga that will grip both surface-level fantasy readers and veteran fans; fans who’ve read everything from Game of Thrones to Prince of Thrones.
With Crowfall just around the corner, now is the perfect time to jump into the Raven’s Mark series, and get ready for what promises to be a dark yet epic finale. But why am I recommending The Raven’s Mark series? What is it about Ed McDonald’s trilogy that is so worth investing your precious time in? This spoiler free breakdown looks at five reasons why you have to read The Raven’s Mark series.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a fantasy tome that builds epic settings on scales that span stages beyond even our own world. Sometimes though, you want something that narrows the focus. You want a book that sets it sights upon a specific journey, and a specific story, that revolves around a specific character, in a very specific way. What you get out of that is a fast-paced and epic ride that throws you from tense scene to tense scene, developing an enthralling story quickly that almost barrels you along like a TV show or a movie.
This is something you experience with The Raven’s Mark series.
The pace of the books is something I truly loved about it. It kicks into gear early and the ride doesn’t stop until it comes screeching to halt at the very end of the line; often covered in blood and gore from the mayhem that it charged you straight through. There are definitely slower moments, sure, and moments that provide breathing room and a bit of exposition to keep you well informed, but for the most part, The Raven’s Mark series grips you by the hand, pulls you on and has you holding for dear life.
It’s a thrill ride; not something you often come across in the fantasy genre.
The Fantasy Elements
When you think fantasy, what springs to mind? I’ll give you a quick list:
Stunning fantasy worlds
Detailed mythos and culture
The Raven’s Mark series checks all these boxes, and more besides. From its interesting use of magical tropes to its dark twists on fantasy monsters, both Blackwing and Ravenscry feature a host of beloved fantasy elements that fans of the genre will find really help build a captivating story.
You won’t find dragons, noble knights, beautiful elves or haggard old wizards in Ed McDonald’s universe. As we’ll discuss in a moment, the Raven’s Mark series a grimdark fantasy. Because of this, the way in which classic fantasy elements are used often fuel that concept of darkness by being quite grim and unpleasant.
Far from being a detracting factor, this drives a more interesting narrative and makes for a very unique saga. It’s hard to say more without offering up spoilers, but from freaky child mages to vengeful Gods of unfathomable, brought to heel by perhaps even darker forces, there is so much to love about the way the genre is explored in The Raven’s Mark series.
The Grimdark Setting
I’m not ashamed to admit it. I absolutely adore the grimdark genre. It’s dark. It’s twisted. It’s f***ed up on more than a few levels, but it is so captivating in the way it tells a story that I can’t help but seek out books in the subgenre.
The Raven’s Mark series is one of the best examples of grimdark fantasy you’ll find. The setting of the entire series is decidedly unpleasant and grim. You never really find yourself outside of a few primary locations, and all either kinda messed up, or really messed up. Those that wander these place are just as twisted as the world they inhabit, either through dark and shady motives or the fact that they’re just suitably grotesque or disturbing fantasy creatures.
There are some more pleasant rays of light, particularly in Ravenscry, but they basically just exist to remind you how terrible and hopeless the world around them really is. Flickering candles in a black and unyielding landscape.
Like with other great grimdark books, such as The First Law trilogy or The Crimson Empire, the narrative feeds off the darkness and desolation that comes hand-in-hand with the bleak settings within which characters find themselves. Ultimately, this makes for a much more interesting story than you’d find in more hopeful worlds. The Raven’s Mark series uses the grimdark subgenre to always keep you guessing, always keep you on your toes, and always feeling a sense of impending danger.
If you aren’t really sure about this particular subgenre, take a look at my blog that answers the question: what is grimdark fantasy?
The Raven’s Mark Series Story
Obviously, any rundown of a book’s story leaves ample room for spoilers, so I won’t go into much detail. What I would like to add about The Raven’s Mark series though, as a closing argument, is that you never expect what comes next.
This isn’t because there are random sharp turns that leave you wondering what the hell just happened -- yes, we’ve all seen Game of Thrones season eight. These aren’t twists that just come out of nowhere to surprise you for the sake of simple shock value without making a great deal of sense.
The twists and turns of The Raven’s Mark series are subtly woven into the narrative and beautifully executed in a way that not only makes perfect sense in terms of story progression, but are also done so in a way that you won’t see coming.
For me, that makes a great journey and helps a story reach a satisfying conclusion.
I don’t want to see signposting from a mile off. I don’t want to pick up on a plant early on and look for the payoff. I want to be surprised when it a new development jumps out from around the corner. I don’t want to have known it was there all along, because it was too proud of itself for its achievement, giggling away loud enough for me to hear. Conversely, I also don’t want it so random that it made no sense to be around that corner in the first place.
The Raven’s Mark series strikes a great balance. Its reveals are big enough to capture you, but not so wild that they make you question everything that has come before them.
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