Blackfeather by James Pursaill

Pure Dark Fantasy Adventure of the grim, vulgar, comical, and morally ambiguous character. Blackfeather has ugly depths, rounded off by superb characterisation. For those familiar with the genre: witch, curses, hardship, pagan gods, zealotry, and brewing vengeance.

The Red Eyed Witch’s abominable curse will be avenged by young misguided Rook, who will take leave of his village, and perhaps his senses, to hunt her; an undertaking that repeatedly appears beyond his capabilities. Rook’s grim memory of past wrongs committed to him has shaped him into a cold icy man with aggressive impulses, especially when he feels threatened.

Servant to a wealthy family, trained to become a swordsman, and learning of the whereabouts of the witch, Rook desperately requires “city skills”. Solmourne itself was an incredible feat of writing; with diverse dark characters lurking everywhere, murky canals, “clean” prostitutes, and just that extra bit of the unusual. A variety of obscene and hilarious sub-characters gave the setting personality and contrast. Superb characterisation; it’s Game of Thrones without raising characters’ hopes. Nobody pretended life was going to be much more than the dung-heap it was.

Criticism: The flashbacks of the witch’s curse were chilling, and though I thoroughly enjoyed Rook’s adventure in Solmourne, I felt as if the original quest was sometimes forgotten or sidelined. It would have been nice to have a few more battles or tests for Rook because his observations or those of other characters seemed more important. Rook grew as a character, mostly reacting rather than acting.

Overall, Blackfeather was an astounding accomplishment. The writing, setting, characterisation, and the plot will blast you into a vivid medieval world that would have been difficult to otherwise imagine. Wow!