Updated: May 19
The Blackbird and the Ghost shows a lot of promise as a new adventure series. Its core genre is archaeological adventure, which will appeal to fans of Indiana Jones or Allan Quatermain. The book introduces a fun new character and an enticing new world with well-paced exposition.
Huw Steer creates a marvelous setting for his stories. The book is set in a fantastic world filled with historical mysteries. Powerful wizards have left behind a series of magical scrolls that could change the world. The seas are heated to boiling temperatures by tectonic activity under the water.
The main character, Tal Wenlock is pretty interesting and likable, also. He's something of a hobbyist, dabbling in sailing, bartending, and academic research. He is also a skilled rogue, which means finding and disabling traps, sneaking around quietly, and no ethical dilemma about stealing or "borrowing."
The protagonist would be somewhat more relatable, however, without his magical ability. I recently read about Sanderson's Laws of Magic, which changed how I read fantasy fiction entirely. I could spend an entire article discussing these laws, but the main point that applies to The Blackbird is that it's not very exciting when the protagonist escapes trouble by the use of inadequately-explained magic. Once he does this, the reader starts to expect that he will solve all of his problems this way, which eliminates most of the suspense that the author wants to create with dangerous situations. Tal Wenlock seems to be able to manipulate elements, such as Fire, Air, and Earth, but his power is limited (by what, the reader doesn't know). Other characters seem to have access to healing abilities, or the ability to turn invisible or disguise themselves. None of this is fully explained yet, so rather than contributing to the story, it becomes a plot crutch. Events and actions that would normally be thrilling and suspenseful suddenly become contrived when they are resolved with a spell or a super-power. When situations that could be resolved with magic are not, the reader has to ask why the characters forgot about their powers.
If I'm going to compare this book to Sanderson, however, I should also extol Steer's very-comparable ability to build and expose his fascinating and fantastic world. As much as I love Sanderson's books, several of them start off with heavy emphasis on new terms, that he describes in dense info-dumps. Steer does a much better job of revealing the magic and mystique of the Boiling Seas through travel, exploration, and character development, which creates a consistent pace throughout the story and a much more enjoyable reading experience.
This book captured my interest from start to finish, and if the series is continued then I will certainly continue reading (and recommending). I can already anticipate fascinating explanations and revelations for his fantastic story setting, and I'm eagerly awaiting more development of the titular Blackbird. The author has the opportunity to better explain, develop, and codify his system of magic, and use this magic in creative, logical ways. If he keeps his magical use consistent and interesting. rather than just using it to propel the plot into the next page, then this series has immense potential. I'm looking forward to the next installment.