Black Wings Beating is a brand new series by London, and like his previous duology, the protagonist is a young gay man of colour, except he has a sister that shares the spotlight. Their names are Brysen and Kylee. They live on a hilltop house that is dangerous to walk up because it is all their evangelical mother and insanely abusive father of falconry could afford. But recently their father went hunting for the ghost eagle and...Maybe I’ll slow down for a minute. This universe swims in gunk, mud, and desperate street sellers. The only family that seems to prosper more than decently is the Tamir’s, and some of them are bankers of their own chequing. And the force behind the economy is not that family, but of falconry. For those who don’t know what that is, it is where people and birds work together to hunt. In this case, it is also in the battle arena. Most of these falconers use straps to keep their birds attached to them. The birds might not want to fight or might want to skedaddle, and falconry, in this world and the real world, ain’t easy. And there’s this legendary ghost eagle, a bird that could kill me with one claw swipe anywhere on my body. And Yzzat, their father, was killed trying to catch it and train it. Brysen is, despite all their father did to them, especially him, also a falconer, and a very stubborn one at that. And one day a promise he makes to someone he loves forces him and his bird Shara up into the mountains to try to give the family legacy another shot. Thing is, he has a tail. A tail who hates the business but has some secret abilities.
London is very good at writing about filthy, corrupt landscapes. He uses his former refugee camp journalism abilities and makes you wish you could bring these fellas some fresh fruit. Or showers. Also, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir raised the bar for how brutal a universe can be. Black Wings Beating manages to catch up. There are so many times someone’s bones are deliberately cracked, and someone even gets eaten alive, screams and snaps aplenty. And considering two things it had going against it; that by the eighth chapter it was proven this was going to be a trek book, which can easily be boring, and also that at the end of every part was a usually uninteresting side story from someone else’s viewpoint, it held up and turned very entertaining and digestible. I still think, apart from the creative, poetic writing style, that this is a step down from his Proxy series.
And I think I have an idea why. This is definitely more gory than those novels, but instead, Proxy and Guardian focused a little bit more on having fun, with chases, sneaking away, and racing against the clock. And some of the side characters, like loud-mouth and proud-mouth Vyvian and the late father, and maybe Dymian and most of the Tamir family, were conspciuously underdeveloped. Of course, I don’t think the characters were necessarily having fun in Proxy, but I think by comparison to this book they were. And that’s not to say this book isn’t fun either. I think it’s just that its reliance on being gross and gory can get overwhelming.
The antagonists, especially Uku, are definitely effective. Goryn Tamir, who is hanging a debt over a friend of Brysen’s, holds someone hostage underneath his desk. That’s really not a happy life. And Uku clearly has no remorse for the atrocities she commits and thinks she is above the law. Both could’ve deserved a bit more slapping than they ended up having.
Still, I’m recommending Black Wings Beating because of its similarities to the Blackwing Yu-Gi-Oh deck. This book has loads of gritty flying monsters, ballistically strange traps, and some well-timed traps. And falconry in the fashion of Pokemon is never too bad an idea. Oh, and that moment when Brysen almost drowns and then has to drink someone’s blood to stay warm? Gross, but tantalizing.