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The Shadow of Black Wings Paperback – July 13, 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 89 customer reviews
Book 1 of 7 in the Year of the Dragon Series

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Fast paced and full of energy."
--Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of the Shadows of the Apt 

"This manuscript is full of highly crafted detail that will make readers shiver at times with fear and delight ... a familiar yet highly original fantasy that is a worthwhile read."
-- Publishers Weekly

"Calbraith weaves a story that is wholly original while following the traditional fantasy tropes."
-- eFiction Steampunk


"James Calbraith's writing is reminiscent of a classic, epic fantasy-immersive, and detailed to the letter. The real-world cultures he draws from are incredibly well-researched and truthful, yet well-balanced with the fantasy elements he sprinkles in between.
An intriguing and impressive series."
-- Ben Galley, author of the Emaneska Series


"What a book! (...) the writing just flows and sweeps you away."
-- Readers Favorite
"Completely original and unexpected (...) The world-building here is phenomenal. I definitely plan on reading the next book in the series." 
-- Cherie Reads review
"The pace of the book is fast, and the multiculturalism of the story is superb...a solid 4 1/2 stars out of 5 and highly recommend it to the steampunk fans." 
-- Gnostalgia
"The book's strongest point is world building...every scene and location is painted to perfection." 
-- Trickster Eric review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 334 pages
  • Publisher: Flying Squid (July 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 8393552915
  • ISBN-13: 978-8393552917
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,997,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Imagine a really well written historical fiction, taking place in the mid 1800's, focusing on the adventures and intrigues occurring in and around imperial Japan. Now add an element of alternative history: the Roman Empire was never vanquished and is vying with other European powers for access to the Orient. And then top that off with a rich layer of dragons, magic and other fantasy elements. That's what you have with The Shadow of Black Wings. James Calbraith does a wonderful job at weaving fact and fantasy into an alternative but very realistic history that pulls the reader into its richness. I'm definitely going to be reading the next book in the series.
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Format: Paperback
The summary of THE SHADOW OF BLACK WINGS does not do it justice because it seems to indicate that this is a piece of historical fiction. It is not. There are dragons and magic from almost the first page. Calbraith has created an EXTENSIVE and exquisite "alternate" version of Queen Victoria's world. There are recognizable elements of the Victorian Empire, its reach, and the competing and/or colonized countries. But there is also a layered world of magic that exists within this somewhat familiar history. Even with the references to real history, this book is what I would call high fantasy. There are complex political and military maneuverings as well as entire races of people and dragons to absorb. The Asian element of the story made some of the names and places a little difficult for me because, as an English teacher, I always do my best to pronounce names correctly even in my head as I read. The descriptions of setting and character alike are rich and detailed. The inclusion of a map helps keep it all straight but Calbraith's attention to specifics and detailed histories of each of these places and peoples is impressive.

The characters are equally layered. It was so refreshing to read a main character with the correct balance of adolescent cockiness and normal, developmental self-doubt. These days so many books make their teenage main character either too mature and insightful for their age or the character is so whiny I almost can't take it. Bran is ready to be out on his own and shows that independence while also admitting to himself (and occasionally others) that he may not be as grown-up as he'd like everyone to think. He battles with self-doubt but it's not cloying. Sato and Nagomi are a well-balanced pair.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Combine fantasy with alternate history, throw in a dash of steampunk and you have The Shadow of Black Wings. This was a really fun read. Elements of fantasy like magic and dragons combine with steampowered ships and clockwork gadgets all set in an alternate version of our world where the Roman Empire still exists. Completely original and unexpected.

The world-building here is phenomenal. The magic systems are interesting but not so complex that you don't understand what's happening. There are languages here that sound just familiar enough that you know where they are "supposed"to be from. The settings are familiar but distinct. There are versions of England, Rome, China, Japan and others. They are familiar enough to make the reader comfortable in the geography but original enough to keep you interested in learning more about them.

There were a couple of things that I did not like so much. First, the point of view never technically changes but the character focus changes throughout the book without warning. I'd be reading pages of Bran and then all of the sudden Dylan was the main focus. I found it jarring and even confusing in a couple of parts. I had to go back an re-read paragraphs on more than one occasion. I don't mind changing focus but I prefer it if there is a clear delineation - either a chapter change or a "split" in the chapter (a **** between sections)

I also found the plot a little bit weak. I enjoyed reading about each of the characters and about Bran's journey but I never really knew where the book was going. I didn't know if the book was about Bran's journey, about the political climate, about the magic and dragons, or about something else entirely. I didn't feel like it was building to any real climax.
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Format: Kindle Edition
While the writing is excellent, be aware that you will need to really love worldbuilding in order to enjoy this book. If you love Tolkien's Similarion, this book is for you.

Otherwise, start reading at the start of Chapter 12, and skip the first 3/4 of the book. This is the place where the story actually starts. Any important details you missed are covered again in the last 6 chapters. This book is aptly named, as the antagonist doesn't actually make a move or do anything until the very last chapter of the book.

The rest of the book the characters are receiving very vague portents of doom, and we learn almost every nation is fighting with almost every other nation. The world in the novel is the same state as the world in about 1890s, except there is some steampunk technology, magic, oh - and dragons, of course.

The pace of the novel never gets above 'slow' until the very last chapter.

However, now that author got all that worldbuilding and omens of doom out of the way, maybe something of interest will actually happen in book 2?
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