Title: Black Wings Beating
Author: Alex London
Format: ARC, 421 pages
Publication: September 25th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Source: Gifted by a friend (thank you so much, Hazel!)
Other classifications: LGBTQIA, Young Adult
The people of Uztar have long looked to the sky with hope and wonder. Nothing in their world is more revered than birds of prey, and no one is more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists.
Brysen strives to be a great falconer, while his twin sister, Kylee, possesses ancient gifts for it, but wants to be free of falconry altogether. She’s nearly made it out, too, but a war is rolling toward the Six Villages, with a rebel army leaving nothing in its wake but blood and empty sky. No bird or falconer will be safe from this invasion.
Together, the twins must embark on a journey into the treacherous mountains to trap the near-mythic ghost eagle, a solitary killer and the most feared of the Uztari birds of prey. They each go for their own reasons: Brysen 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.
Alex London explores queer heroism and complex sibling relationship in Black Wings Beating—an epic, gripping, and exceedingly original opener to a new fantasy series.
In the Six Villages, nothing is more revered than birds of prey, and no one is more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists. Kylee possesses ancient gifts for falconry, but wants nothing to do with it. Brysen longs for the glory his sister refuses. But rumors of war approaching threaten the twin’s home and the freedom they have worked hard for. And things get more tangled when Brysen gets swept up in Dymian’s, his boyfriend and trainer, debts and agrees to capture the elusive ghost eagle, a solitary killer and the most feared of the Uztari birds of prey. And that is at the core of Black Wings Beating. It is a story of power and bravery. Of longing and heroism. Of hurt. Of betrayal. Of forgiveness. It is a story of political intrigues and the fierce, complicated bond between siblings. All grounded in love.
“But he knew this was what he was meant to do. This was what his father never could. He’d gone into the mountain filled with rage, and it had been his death. Brysen would go as an act of love, and he’d survive.”
I am always drawn to stories about families, especially the beautifully complex ones. And the author certainly delivers. Brysen is this loyal and unrelentingly romantic sibling. He yearns for glory and will do anything for the boy he loves. He is reckless like that. And if it isn’t obvious, he is gay. So I won’t lie; I came to the party for Brysen. What I didn’t expect, however, was to end up being more invested in Kylee. Who is fierce, sensible, and equally loyal. Who thinks about her brother more than anything else and is ready to protect him no matter the cost. Kylee, who evidently harbors a secret of her own. And that is what’s so compelling about the book, to me at least. That in the quieter moments, you see Brysen and the lasting effects of abuse. You see him struggle, “fighting against the weight of a world that dragged down boys who wanted to fly.” You see Kylee deal with the guilt she carries. You witness how the twins hurt each other, often unknowingly, at times purposefully. But you also feel the undeniable love between the two.
“He wanted to be the hero of this story, and a part of her wanted him to be, too. She herself was no hero.”
In a Mashable article that was released in June, London said that for the Skybound series, he “wanted to try not only to write queer heroes, but to write queer heroism.” Adding, “there is a challenge in fantasy—especially epic fantasy—that even with queer heroes and romances, it can still operate in the same hetero and patriarchal modes: a hero has to stab stuff with pointy things to dominate the bad guys and win.” And this translates really well into his work because Black Wings Beating is queer in the most beautiful of ways. The author not only uses love and gentleness as sources of power, he centers both in a brutal world. And I am so ready for more conversations about this that don’t necessarily revolve around toxic masculinity.
“All things were bound to their opposites. The hawk didn’t always win against the mouse, and brutality didn’t always conquer gentleness. It was rarely celebrated, but sometimes gentleness won.”
There are also the unique world-building and thrilling battle sequences. As well as matriarchal owl cults and a giant killer bird. But more than anything, it is the diverse cast of well-written characters that makes London’s return to YA a must-read. Like Brysen’s goshawk, I needed no tethering. I was drawn to the story—a raptor trained to return to its master.
Do not let this fly under your radars!
Alex London has written books for adults, children, and teens. His young adult debut, Proxy, was an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers, a 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults, a Rainbow List Selection, and a 2016 ALA Popular Paperback, and appeared on state reading lists across the country, from New York to Texas and California to Arkansas. At one time a journalist reporting from conflict zones and refugee camps, Alex lives with his husband in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Hey y’all! Yes, I’m still alive! How have you been? Have you read the Proxy duology? Are you going to pick up Black Wings Beating anytime soon? Have I convinced you to? No? What are some of your favorite YA fantasy series? Sound off in the comments below!