Black Wings Beating (ARC) by Alex London

Set to be released on September 25, 2018, Black Wings Beating by Alex London promises to be full of epic thrills, heart-punching romance, and a marvel of a hero. With this first book in a new young-adult fantasy 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.

DISCLAIMER: I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review.

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.

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As soon as I saw this ARC become available, I knew I had to read it. While I have never read any of Alex London’s work before, the synopsis already had me hooked with it originality and promise of fantastical magic. And while I did love many aspects of this book, it wasn’t perfect, and I found myself wishing for more.

On the characters – I really enjoyed Kylee’s character and her story progression, but I simply could not force myself to like or connect with Brysen whatsoever. I had a hard time connecting with him and resented how his actions negatively affected Kylee. He’s selfish, reckless, impulsive, and wracked with jealousy over Kylee’s abilities. Throughout the novel it is so evident that Kylee is doing her best to atone for the sins of her past by doing everything in her power to protect her brother – yet Brysen continually (and infuriatingly) pushes everyone away. Except, of course, a complete jerk he was inexplicably fallen in love with, despite the fact that said man doesn’t even believe in Brysen and treats him pretty horribly. Brysen is the kind of person to make tons of bad decisions, and it gets a bit tedious after a while. I would have really preferred a sibling dynamic where their strengths and weaknesses could have balanced each other, instead of having this lopsided situation where the girl is given all the responsibility of making sure their expedition is a success while her brother thoughtlessly chases glory and the love of a horrible man.

Kylee, for her part, is tough, smart, compassionate, and complex. Kylee is also pretty kickass when it comes to protecting those she cares about, and I thoroughly enjoyed her uncertainty when it came to her powers. Here again, we have an author showing us that a woman doesn’t have to be perfect to be powerful, and I loved every second of it.

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Despite my love-hate relationship with the primary protagonists, I still enjoyed this book. In fact, one of my favourite things about this book was the writing. I was impressed with how London seamlessly integrated world-building and story-telling, so that neither ver overpowered the other. Furthermore, the language used to tell the story was impressive, sometimes almost feeling poetic as he drew readers into the mythology of his world. For example, there were beautiful metaphors and sayings involving birds and falconry were scattered throughout the book, but never in a way that felt unnatural or like London was trying too hard.

Finally, I can’t ignore the powerful and positive representation that London gave the LGBTQ2+ community with this book. Despite my feelings of distaste towards how Brysen’s partner treats him, there is not even a hint of homophobia towards the same-sex couple. Furthermore, I have seen some readers reading Kylee as ace, which is intriguing. I wish London had been more explicit about Kylee’s sexual orientation, as he was with Brysen’s explicitly gay relationship. The fact that he wasn’t felt especially odd considering the world didn’t seem to have homophobic tendencies. I hope her identities are explored more and affirmed in further books – because perhaps she herself has not yet truly accepted who she is.

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Overall, I did love many aspects of Black Wings Beating by Alex London, but it wasn’t perfect, and I found myself wishing for more. I had a strong love-hate relationship with the main protagonists, which made it difficult to read from Brysen’s perspective/care much about him at all, but I did love London’s world-building and story-telling, which were beautiful and even a bit poetic at times (3/5).

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