The Black Hawks by David Wragg

Dark, thrilling, and hilarious, The Black Hawks is an epic adventure perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch.

Life as a knight is not what Vedren Chel imagined. Bound by oath to a dead-end job in the service of a lazy step-uncle, Chel no longer dreams of glory – he dreams of going home.

When invaders throw the kingdom into turmoil, Chel finds opportunity in the chaos: if he escorts a stranded prince to safety, Chel will be released from his oath.

All he has to do is drag the brat from one side of the country to the other, through war and wilderness, chased all the way by ruthless assassins.

With killers on your trail, you need killers watching your back. You need the Black Hawk Company – mercenaries, fighters without equal, a squabbling, scrapping pack of rogues.

Prepare to join the Black Hawks.

“For fans of Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch,” they said. And just like that, I was hooked.

The Black Hawks feels like a bit of a throwback to those older fantasy novels where a close-knit group of warriors would dash off on some quest, explore the world, meet a lot of interesting people, and then dispose of some of them. You know the types. Those books where our mighty heroes take the Magic Item to the pre-destined Wherever, and in doing so save the world.

But The Black Hawks is also nothing like that at all. Don’t get me wrong, The Black Hawks can feel like a traditional quest fantasy on occasion, but it isn’t. Not really. Our “heroes” aren’t really heroes. They’re mercenaries. And there’s no magic item (or much magic at all, really). Instead, the item that our very unheroic heroes are transporting is a kidnapped prince. They aren’t doing it to save the world, either. They’re doing it for money. The best of motivations.

Our main character, Chel, very unfortunately stumbles into the middle of all of this. Despite being told on numerous occasions that he’s supposed to be lucky, he consistently finds himself in some of the worst possible situations. His life races ahead of him like a Formula 1 car and he is dragged along the road behind it, banging his head against pothole after pothole.

I should say that I thought the beginning was a little bit rough. The reader is sort of thrown into things, and while I’m generally not adverse to this kind of opening, I did find it a little bit disorienting in this instance. I wasn’t really sure what kind of book it was going to be.

But after those rough early chapters, The Black Hawks comes into its own. The humour, understated at first, grows into itself, and the cast of characters expands to include The Black Hawk mercenary company itself.

I’m not keen to give too much away about the character arcs, but I will say that the group dynamic was one of my favourite parts of the book. There are witty jokes, cutting remarks, and found-family feels. This is the sort of book where you get to know most of the characters along with the protagonist, and that creates a sort of bond between them and the reader. I was very fond of them all by the end, and very invested in their stories and continued survival.

I know. When will I learn?

Chel is a main character that you can really empathize with, and I enjoyed that he had a bit of a backbone to him. He’s not arrogant by any means, but he’s willing to bet on himself if it comes to it, which is a nice change of pace from those protagonists who are more inclined to doubt themselves.

The world is pretty standard euro-medieval low-fantasy. There is a lot of politicking, but our characters aren’t really politically-important enough to have any impact on that. Besides, y’know, the whole kidnapping a prince thing. But other than that minor detail, they are definitely victims of politics rather than major players. Definitely.

The humour, however, is the star of the show. Most of it comes from the dialogue — with Scott Lynch-esque insults and banter — though there are also some absurd situations, none of which break the flow of the story. I’m also giving bonus points for a written Scottish accent that actually wasn’t horrendously terrible. Believe me, that’s rare.

I do think that the plot, which was fairly simple throughout most of the book, maybe pushes the limits of believability towards the end. This may be something that breaks immersion for some readers, but I was willing to roll with it since I thought it fit in with some of the other ridiculous aspects of the story.

For those of you searching for another series that can scratch a bit of your Locke Lamora itch, this may do the job. I’ve seen some people compare this to Kings of the Wyld, and while I do think that fans of one will enjoy the other, for me this is a very different book beyond the surface-level similarities. The Black Hawks is a bit more serious, and much more grounded.

To sum up, if you’re a fan of coarse, violent, and funny fantasy books, this is one for you. You should read it.

But for now, I’m going to leave you with three nonsense sentences that should make no sense whatsoever until you decide to pick this one up:

I love lemon. Spiders freak me out. Long live Pigfucker.

We received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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