Title: Black Wings Beating
Series: The Skybound Saga: Book One
Author: Alex London
Length: 432 Pages
Category: Young Adult, Fantasy
At a Glance: Overall, there’s some really nice world building to enjoy in this story, but it’s home to characters that I didn’t grow to care for in spite of the author’s efforts to inspire my empathy for them.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: The people of Uztar have long looked to the sky with hope and wonder. Nothing in their world is more revered than the birds of prey and no one more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists.
Brysen strives to be a great falconer—while his twin sister, Kylee, rejects her ancient gifts for the sport and wishes to be free of falconry. She’s nearly made it out, too, but a war is rolling toward their home in the Six Villages, and no bird or falconer will be safe.
Together the twins must journey into the treacherous mountains to trap the Ghost Eagle, the greatest of the Uztari birds and a solitary killer. Brysen goes for the boy he loves and the glory he’s long craved, and Kylee to atone for her past and to protect her brother’s future. But both are hunted by those who seek one thing: power.
In this first young-adult fantasy novel in a trilogy, Alex London launches a soaring saga about the memories that haunt us, the histories that hunt us, and the bonds of blood between us.
Review: Alex London’s Black Wings Beating is high fantasy set in an avian oriented world where birds of prey are used as a means of status and intimidation, as weapons, for use in sporting and hunting, or in whatever other manner one might have use for a bird. Some of the characters are even more bird than human, which is kind of meta when you think about it. There is one feathered beast that becomes the focus of the story, however, and serves as the bounty in a quest which propels the story’s characters into a dangerous journey amidst the threat of a coming war between this bird-centric society and those who condemn them for their skyward gaze. I’d liken it to a conflict of religious ideologies, but it’s nothing more than a tease here, playing as a looming undercurrent of doom in the whole of the story.
I was invested in the introduction to this world; albeit, once I’d finished the book I was left wondering why it began where it did, which leads to one of the issues I had and will touch on in a sec. The author’s attention to detail increases the reader’s awareness that this is a novel set in an alternate universe; it’s accomplished in its uniqueness, some of the characters are truly fantastical, and yet there is a familiarity to the story too. It fits the mold of most YA Fantasy in which the teenage protagonist(s) are tasked with the responsibility of fighting insurmountable odds in a race against time to, ostensibly, save the day. If I were considering the merits of the setting on their own, this would be a much simpler review; however, there’s more to a book than its beautiful scenery. Black Wings Beating reads like a story that began too soon and then spent a lot of word count to get to the point where it should have begun—with the coming war. That’s only my opinion, of course, and is not to say there weren’t some scenes that were delivered well, full of intrigue and action, but there were also times when the narrative was bogged down by its own details, and there were at least two chapter transitions that threw me clean out of the story thanks to the sudden introduction of new point-of-view characters. Some of these characters were introduced for the mere purpose of dying, while others were introduced and then disappeared for long spans of narrative.
As heroes, Kylee and Brysen are sympathetic characters…in the beginning…who were cursed with horrific parents, especially their late father, who was cruel and abusive to Brysen. As a side note, the abuses aren’t played out on page but are described in enough detail that it’s clear how much Bry suffered his father’s brutality while Kylee could do nothing to stop it, and while their mother stood by praying uselessly and watching it happen. The beatings and abuses shaped who Brysen grew into, his scars mark him a survivor, and this is why his desperation to rescue Dymian, the boy Brysen loves, is a hard lesson in placing one’s faith in someone who’s undeserving of it. I understand how Brysen’s upbringing could cause him to choose so poorly, and this serves as the catalyst for the quest, as Brysen must find and capture the beast that many have died trying to contain, including his own father.
The ghost eagle becomes the crux of Dymian and Brysen’s relationship as well as providing more conflict between Kylee and Brysen as secrets are revealed which threaten not only their success but the siblings’ relationship as well. Kylee has assumed the mantle of brother’s keeper, for all intents and purposes, and Bry has sworn to capture and deliver the giant bird to save Dymian’s life. As one would expect on a hero’s journey, they meet some interesting adversaries and allies along the way, and I was intrigued by the idea of a great winged creature straight out of the pages of mythology, imbued with mystique and grandeur and inexplicable power, but my interests were piqued only to have them dissipate as this particular conflict resolved itself; at least, as far as it was meant to resolve itself here. After its buildup, the golden eagle itself ended up being rather meh. The most fascinating part of the journey was the encounter with the Owl Mothers and their covey of young males, and one boy who might figure into Brysen’s life going forward, while the Owl Mothers themselves figure into Kylee’s.
Word on the street is that London’s Proxy series is fantastic, so though I haven’t read him before, I’m going to say that maybe this book is an anomaly. There’s some nice world building to enjoy in Black Wings Beating, but it’s home to characters that fell flat, weren’t fully fleshed-out into interesting people, and I didn’t grow to care for them in spite of the author’s efforts to inspire my empathy through their suffering. The narrative’s attempts to draw me into this world hit some incredible peaks and some disappointing lows, and when taking the target audience into consideration, I’d venture to guess my own teenagers, who are the book’s intended demographic, would say this was a fair-to-middling fantasy with the potential to be much better as the war arrives at the Six Village’s doorstep.
You can buy Black Wings Beating here:
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