Black Wings Beating, by Alex London
Series: Skybound, #1
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Release Date: September 25th, 2018
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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.
Content Warning for: Some violence and past abuse
For all of the Black Wings Beating’s strengths, I felt bogged down by the violence it shows between family, between members of the same community, and between communities. As I read, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this story was asking us to accept this undercurrent of violence as inevitable: that all human communities and relationships are no more complex than that of the falcon — we must hunt or be hunted. Because of this, I didn’t have much patience with the book, but I continued because I did find some aspects interesting. The story, the characters, and the culture are all intimately entangled with the birds of prey that are the lifeblood of the Six Villages, and I was intrigued by the ways in which falconry informed the cultures of the book and moved the plot forward.
On the other hand, I wasn’t very convinced by the ghost eagle, which is basically an enormous magic bird that everyone believes will somehow be enough to turn the tides of the coming war. The instigator of that war, Anon, has basically started a war of religious genocide over birds, and so the book is also trying to give us background on this bigger conflict while it focuses on the local concerns of the protagonists, who have no idea that this war is sweeping down on their village until the end.
I didn’t think the stakes needed to be so high. The struggles of the twins Kylee and Brysen felt like enough, without adding a religious war on top. I also found myself wishing that this had been solely Kylee’s book, rather than Kylee cleaning up Brysen’s messes. Brysen suffered extensive abuse at the hands of his father for many years, and these physical and emotional scars still show. While I could see how this long running abuse has shaped him into the character, he often struck me as petulant and childish. It is his immaturity that drives so much of the plot, which, paired with his streak of romanticism, is often a recipe for disaster. Although it is Brysen’s love for his falconry trainer and sorta boyfriend Damien that propels him into going on the mad quest for the Ghost Eagle, we see warning signs aplenty that Damien is less invested in their relationship.
The research that London conducted on falconry really shows – the story is at its best when it focuses on the hawks and falcons. The language of falconry, of birds and metaphors for flight and hunt – all of these suffuse the prose, to good and ill effect. Sometimes the metaphors are just right, but sometimes they only muddy the waters. Still, I’m looking for a story with more kindness than this one shows. This is the beginning of a trilogy, but I’m content to leave the story here.
Alex London writes books for adults (One Day The Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War), children (Dog Tags series; An Accidental Adventure series) and teens (Proxy). At one time a journalist reporting from conflict zones and refugee camps, he is now a full time novelist living in Brooklyn, NY, where he can be found wandering the streets talking to his dog, who is the real brains of the operation.
You can purchase Black Wings Beating from:
Or add it to Goodreads
I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.