ARC provided by the publisher—Harper Voyager—in exchange for an honest review.
The Black Hawks by David Wragg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Articles of Faith (Book #1 of 3)
Pages: 429 pages (Kindle edition)
Published: 3rd October 2019 by Harper Voyager
Entertaining, intense, and filled with great lines spoken by morally grey characters to root for.
If you’ve been following the adult fantasy market for the past two years, you’ll most likely realize that the cover art is quite similar to Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames—one of my favorite fantasy debuts of all time. The cover art is done by the same artist—Richard Anderson—and as always, he never fails to deliver a striking/distinctive artwork. Excluding the similarity in cover art, does the content actually provided something similar to Kings of the Wyld? It would have to be a no from me. The exposure and advertisements I’ve seen for The Black Hawks so far have led me to think that this is an overwhelmingly comedic and light-hearted book; I have to disagree with this notion. Sure there are some funny lines embedded into the narrative, such as this description about wolves for example:
“To think I left Clyden for this. Eaten by a fucken dog with a hairstyle.”
But a few funny lines here and there, in my opinion, doesn’t make a book with a darker tone to it be termed as comedic or hilarious; not when there are many serious topics to unpack in the story.
The Black Hawks is the first book in Articles of Faith series, it’s also David Wragg’s debut work. Wragg’s debut revolves around premises that have been done a lot of times before. The story follows Vedren Chel, a knight bound by oath to a dead-end job to his step-uncle. When an invasion occurs very early in the story, Chel finds an opportunity in the chaos to free himself from his oath by doing a new task: deliver Tarfel, a bratty prince of the kingdom, to safety by escorting him across the country whilst being chased by ruthless assassins. As his new task begins, Chel and Tarfel meets the mercenary group, The Black Hawks Company, and find their missions intertwined. As you can probably guess, The Black Hawks is a quest-centered fantasy; almost the entirety of the plot revolves around Chel trying his best to fulfill his oath to Tarfel. It’s true that this kind of premise has been done many times before, but Wragg was able to successfully deliver an engaging reading experience with this premise and I, as a reader, don’t see any fault with that.
It did take me a quarter of the book to find myself fully engaged with it. Part 1 felt a bit hard to get into for me but once Chel and Tarfel met The Black Hawks Company, my reading experience of this book became significantly better and the quality never stops escalating up to the bloody cliffhanger conclusion. To succinctly explain it: the entertainment value in the interaction between Chel and the members of The Black Hawks Company was immense. Through these characters, the themes of faith, friendship, loyalty, and war were efficiently explored. It was intriguing to see how Chel and Tarfel—both are virtuous characters—influenced the morally ambiguous group of mercenary that pretty much have a close-to-zero sense of loyalty. These characters also spat curses as effortless as they inhale air. Seriously, I’m talking about The Gentleman Bastards’ level of innovative cussing. I didn’t expect it at first, but somewhere along the way Chel, Tarfel, Lemon, Rennic, Spider, and Loveless became characters that I ended up caring about.
“It’s always about sex. Shepherds know how much of human history has been steered by some central figure’s urge to fuck someone or something.”
Banters and engaging dialogues aside, The Black Hawks is quite an action-packed debut; action scenes dominate the pages of this novel. Due to the constant chase the main characters endured, the majority of the action scenes were skirmishes or small-scale combat that’s spread throughout the whole book. There are no monsters or fantastical creatures within the series so far, and all the battles were well-written close-quarter combat. Speaking of actions, you better get some free time to read through the last 20% of the book. Seriously, I couldn’t put it down; it was full of tension, it will also have you begging for the next book immediately upon closing the final page. In all honesty, I’m not a fan of reading the first book of a series with a huge cliffhanger ending, especially when the next book isn’t available for me to read yet. But I also have to admit that the last 20% of the book and the cliffhanger ending did leave an incredibly strong impression to me.
I have no idea where the story will go from here, but I’m excited to find out eventually. The Black Hawks is an incredibly entertaining debut that’s filled with morally ambiguous characters, witty banter, and well-written close-quarter action scenes. I believe this debut will be a hit for readers who loves a darker-toned fantasy novel with a memorable cast that has occasional humor embedded in the grimdark-esque narrative.
Official release date: 3rd October 2019
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.