The Blackwing War

by K.B. Spangler

Cover image

Series: Deep Witches #1
Publisher: A Girl and Her Fed Books
Copyright: March 2021
ISBN: blackwing-war
Format: Kindle
Pages: 284

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The Blackwing War is the first book of a projected space opera series. I previously reviewed Stoneskin, which was intended as a prelude to this series. In theory you can start here, but I would read Stoneskin first.

Tembi is a Witch, which means she can ask the Deep to do things for her. At the start of the book, those things mostly involve disarming bombs. The galaxy is in the middle of a genocidal war between the well-equipped and all-but-officially supported Sagittarius Armed Forces, also known as the Blackwings, and the Sabenta resistance movement. To settle the galaxy, humans fiddled with their genes to adapt themselves to otherwise-hostile planets. The Blackwings take exception, in the tradition of racist humans throughout history, and think it's time to purify human bloodlines again. Both sides are using bombs.

The Deep is the brilliant idea of this series. It seems to exist everywhere simultaneously, it's alive, it adores teleporting things, and it's basically a giant cosmic puppy. Humans are nearly incomprehensible to the Deep, and it's nearly incomprehensible to humans, but it somehow picks out specific humans who can (sort of) understand it and whom it gets attached to and somehow makes immortal. These are the Witches, and they have turned the Deep into the logistical backbone of human civilization. Essentially all commerce and travel is now done through Deep teleportation, requested by a Witch and coordinated by Lancaster, the Witches' governing council.

The exception is war. Lancaster is strictly neutral; it does not take sides, even in the face of an ongoing genocide, and it refuses to transport military ships, any type of weapons, or even war refugees. Domino, Lancaster's cynically manipulative leader, is determined to protect its special privileges and position at all costs. Tembi is one of the quasi-leaders of a resistance against that position, but even they are reluctant to ask the Deep to take sides in a war. To them, the Deep is a living magical creature that they are exploiting, and which also tends to be a bundle of nerves. Using it as a weapon feels like a step too far.

That's how the situation lies at the start of this book when, after a successful bomb defusing, the Deep whisks Tembi away to watch an unknown weapon blow up a moon.

A lot of this book consists of Tembi unraveling a couple of mysteries, starting with the apparent experimental bomb and then expanding to include the apparent drugging and disappearance of her former classmate. The low-grade war gets worse throughout, leaving Tembi torn between the justifications for Lancaster's neutrality and her strong sense of basic morality. The moments when Tembi gets angry enough or impatient enough to take action are the best parts, but a lot of this book is quite grim. Do not expect all to be resolved in a happy ending. There is some catharsis, but The Blackwing War is also clearly setup for a longer series.

Tembi is a great character and the Deep is even better. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about both of them, and Tembi's relationship with the Deep is a delight. Usually I get frustrated by baffling incomprehensibility as a plot devices, but Spangler pulls it off as well as I've seen it done. But unfortunately, this book is firmly in the "gets worse before it will get better" part of the overall story arc, and the sequels have not yet appeared. The Blackwing War ends on a cliffhanger that portends huge changes for the characters and the setting, and if I had the next book to rush into, I wouldn't mind the grimness as much. As is, it was a somewhat depressing reading experience despite its charms, and despite a somewhat optimistic ending (that I doubt will truly resolve anything).

I think the world-building elements were a touch predictable, and I wish Spangler wouldn't have her characters keep trying to justify Domino's creepy, abusive, and manipulative actions. But the characters are so much fun, and the idea of the Deep as a character is such a delight, that I am hooked on this series regardless. Recommended, although I will (hopefully) be able to recommend it more heartily once at least one sequel has been published.

Content warnings: genocide, racism, violent death.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2023-12-24

Last modified and spun 2023-12-25