Black Wings Beating (Skybound #1)
By: Alex London
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: September 25th 2018
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.
It’s obvious on afterthought that I get the vast majority of my book news from Twitter: I immediately grabbed up this book in the library, and then on afterthought realized that all of the places I’d heard about this book from was…Twitter. But, since I’d also heard that it was very bold about its M/M romance, I decided to trust the interwebs and take a dive into this very birdy book.
Seriously, the entire thing is ALL about birds. Kylee and her brother Brysen, the two MCs of the book, live in a society where one’s livelihood, social status, and religion is all about hawking and birds. They take care of their late father’s mews, while Brysen tries to train to be a competitive…bird fighter? I forget the word. I enjoyed how different the world was than your cut-and-dried medieval fantasy setting, and I thought that the detail that went into naming and figuring out all of the bird stuff was pretty great. I did have some questions about the rest of the world-building, though, like whether they were in the mountains or the foothills (it’s fairly unclear), whether there’s just the ONE lil town in the entire country, and how they got food if everyone was out hawking. But, even though the rest of the world (and worldbuilding) is slightly blurry, the birds and the people come sharply into focus.
I did enjoy the characters, and I thought that the alternating narratives between Kaylee and Brysen worked REALLY well for the plot. The first chapter I was just thinking ‘UGH, Brysen is just a MASSIVE jerk, a la teenage boys, do I have to deal with that the entire book?!?’ and then as soon as it flipped to his perspective I was like ‘Oh, I guess Kaylee is also not being a good person either’. I liked how they acted like real siblings–bickering, fighting, ‘I can do this without you’–it felt very real. But I also liked how they clearly cared for each other. Although their relationship was complicated by a few things–including a past history of domestic violence, TRIGGER WARNING, as well as Kylee’s particular gift–it was obvious over the course of the book that they were both trying to repair the relationship and be better to each other, which I also liked.
I also liked the complexity of Brysen’s relationships, especially the way the people around him viewed his homosexuality. I thought that it was interesting how he interpreted Kylee’s dislike of his boyfriend Damian as homophobia, when it was really that she just didn’t like the dude. And, quite frankly, he was a hack and she was right to dislike him–but I liked the way that London dealt with that, including Brysen’s desperation to keep hold of Damian despite all of the red flags. My one gripe about this is, again, the worldbuilding, specifically how London never addresses the society’s thoughts about homosexuality and homosexual relationships. For instance, it’s hinted that Brysen is fairly closeted, that the abuse he suffered was at least partially because of his romantic leanings, and that the relationship he has with Damian is semi-private. BUT at the same time everyone seems to understand that they’re messing around with very little vilification of that? So I didn’t understand why he was so closeted and having so many issues with his sexuality if society as a whole didn’t judge?
I had an easier time with Kylee’s plot, mainly because she was grappling with her ‘magical’ ability to speak the language of birds, despite it being Brysen’s dream and not hers to work with birds. But at the same time, I feel that it was maybe a little overly simple–like, it takes one meeting with this creepy bird-woman sect in the mountains to force her to acknowledge that she has this ability and needs to use it. In some ways the plot does revolve primarily around Brysen, despite Kylee maybe being more of the MC? I don’t know.
I have to say, I definitely enjoyed the book when I was reading it, and it was a good read. But on reflection, I really have an issue with some of the worldbuilding as a whole. While I think on the whole the society was innovative, and I liked the focus on the one big thing, I just have too many questions about everything else, from how the society reacts to homosexuality and relationships more generally to how they get what they eat and wear when NO ONE seems to be doing any kind of agriculture and even where this city is. But I still enjoyed the characterization of Kylee and Brysen, the bird focus, and how the book handles a complex romance.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.