It was fascinating reading Godblind (Anna Stephens, review copy from Harper Voyager) and Blackwing (Ed McDonald, Gollancz) closely together. There are a lot of similiarities between both novels, but quite a few differences too.
Godblind features two warring civilisations. Rilpor, a largely peaceful, but still militarised kingdom is bordered to the West by the Mireces, a blood-thirsty alliance of tribes. Each worships two gods (one male, one female), but while one is peaceful and preaches redemption, the other thrives on violence and human sacrifice. Centuries before, the gods were thrust behind the veil, but the red cultists are plotting to tear the veil through the blood-shed of war, enabling the Red Gods to walk the world again.
In Blackwing, the existential terror lies to the East. The Misery is a warped and shifting landscape filled with mutated creatures and monsters that has been occupied by twelve evil immortals. Set against it is a city-state that controls the Engine, the only weapon capable of damaging the Deep Kings and their twisted troops. A weapon built by one of the twelve immortals set against them. Although stalemate has reigned for many years, there are concerning signs that the Deep Kings are mustering for invasion.
Ryhalt Galharrow is the titular Blackwing, a soldier marked by one of his gods and regularly tasked to undertake mysterious quests for little reward. As the novel progresses, his background as a battle-scarred noble who has turned his back on his heritage begins to emerge. Godblind features Dom Templeson, a warrior who is also a seer, with a portal in his head that he uses to communicate with his gods. He works as a Watcher, guarding Rilpor’s Western border. Galharrow is cynical and self-reflective, where Dom mostly reacts, perpetually seeking to escape his role as seer.
Chance encounters prompted by their gods are the jumping off points for both novels. Galharrow is sent to one of the forts in the edge of the Misery which is shortly going to come under attack. His job is to save a particular person, who turns out to be his former fiancee, now a powerful magic-wielder key to repelling the forthcoming invasion. Dom receives a vision telling him to go to a particular place. There he finds Rillirin, an escaped Mireces slave, and saves her from her pursuers. She turns out to be the killer of the last Mireces king and the brother of the new one.
Both books are classic grimdark, featuring a high body count and lots of violence. Both use it to illustrate the horror of the enemy, but where Blackwing uses it to show the horror and darkness of war, Godblind veers close to torture-porn at times, glorying in showing the full horrors of Mireces rites.
I would also give Blackwing the edge in its world-building. The magic-system built on the use of light is fresh, but has a realistic industry supporting it. An industry that is subject to corruption, relies on the exploitation of workers and ties the kingdom together in its focus on battling the Deep Kings. McDonald’s gods are clearly playing a long game. They are frequently absent and use humans as pawns in their centuries-long battles. By contrast, it’s unclear to me how the largely agrarian country of Rilpor can manage to support a large standing army that doesn’t appear to do much most of the time, or why its small towns and cities remain loyal to the throne, beyond that it’s there.
While both are very enjoyable books, Blackwing just feels as if it has a bit more depth, more nuance and and greater maturity to it than Godblind.