Book Review – The Black Coast

I started this blog back in January and hand in hand with all this reviewing malarky is a necessity to grow some sort of social media presence, and even though I’ve never had any want to spend time on twitter before, mainly due to its fairly bad reputation, I’ve come to find that the fantasy book twitter community is pretty awesome and through them I’ve stumbled across some amazing books I might have missed otherwise. Mike Brook’s The Black Coast is one of the first books I came across as I started and was one that jumped to the top of my list. Not only has it got some truly stunning cover art, but read for yourself, it’s pretty self-explanatory…

“When the citizens of Black Keep see ships on the horizon, terror takes them, for they know who is coming: for generations, Black Keep has been raided by the fearsome clan’s people of Iwernia. Saddling their war dragons, the Naridan’s rush to defend their home only to discover that the clan’s people have not come to pillage at all. Driven from their own homeland by the rise of a daemonic despot who prophesies the end of the world, they have come in search of a new home. Meanwhile the wider continent of Narida is lurching toward war. Black Keep is about to be caught in the cross-fire of the coming war for the world – if only its new mismatched society can survive.”

Saana, The Black Coast – Mike Brooks

This is the story of two peoples, the Tjakorshi and the people of the Black Keep, part of the kingdom of Narida, at face value this is pure, classic fantasy, It sounds action packed, it sounds exciting, It sounds exactly what I want from a fantasy book. I was ready for big fight scenes and dragon battles, war, action, duels, magic are the foundations of most truly great fantasy books, but all of this is just the backdrop for the main story. This is a book about the amalgamation of two peoples, it’s a book about bringing together two different cultures, it’s about learning to live with people you don’t know, who look different to you, that have a different sexual orientation than yourself. It’s a story about understanding and it’s a book that we should learn from. I would be an idiot if I said that this was the first book I read that dealt with these sorts of ideas, and it’s not the first fantasy book to express these issues, but I’m not normally the sort of reader that focuses on the political ideologies behind the book but more so the sword swinging and epic dragon fights. I’ve said it before, I’m a simple man. Instead, Mike did a fantastic job of really laying out these people’s differences and cultures, somehow making a language that allowed a classical/historical look at gender neutrality, spending so much time on the importance of genders and identities. Everything Mike wrote felt so fleshed out, this wasn’t JK Rowling slipping in a gay dumbledore in a poor attempt to please fans, these things felt genuinely important to Mike. I love that as society changes and our authors get more diverse, our books change, becoming more varied and allowing for completely different characters and stories. You only have to look at Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir to see how incredibly different the books we are getting are, would something like that been written ten, twenty years ago? No, of course not, Fantasy and literature in general carry on improving because of that.

The Black Coast feels different, refreshing, it was genuinely nice to be more excited for the parts of the book that focused on the struggles between the clans and the issues they overcame rather than the battle and bloodshed. I think my favourite chapter in the entire book was the run up to a game of something that compared slightly to rugby, and that’s mental because this book had dragons. I love Dragons….

There are multiple POV characters over the course of the story however, it mostly revolves around two,  Saana, who leads the Brown Eagle Clan and Daimon Blackcreek, the adopted son of the Lord of Black Keep. These two characters share most of the page time and are both incredibly well written and interesting, yet there lies my only issue in the book, these are the only characters I really cared about as the story went on. Mike spent large portions of this book setting up for the next books in the series, and these other POV characters did an excellent job at fleshing out the plot points we can expect to see in the next book, but because they didn’t have a massive impact on the main storyline of The Black Coast I felt myself waiting to get back to a chapter with Daimon or Saana. Although Mike did a pretty good job of combatting this though, the chapters away from our favourites tended to be short and to the point, allowing quick and well-done story progression before getting back to the main problems at hand, I didn’t feel any character fatigue at any point during the book. Mike’s writing in general was top notch, he had some wonderful prose, discussion between characters felt entirely natural, his pacing was great and even though this book was a slow burn for the first half, it picked up pace so quickly, giving me that urge to skip to the end just to see if how things go, which of course I would never dare.

“Saana watched them go for a few heartbeats, then heaved a breath and headed towards the nearest knot of her people. She felt a bit like one of the little shellfish in the rock pools were the water retreated – a soft mess inside thin, brittle armour, clamped tight shut against the air. She had a nasty feeling it would be some time until the tide next came in, and she could relax her shell again.”

Saana, The Black Coast – Mike Brooks

Now for one little spoiler, skip ahead if you wish.

I would just like to thank Mike for something so rare in books these days, especially the first book in the series, a happy ending.  The end hundred pages of this book are intense, filled with exciting set pieces, big battles, dragon riders, the characters we’ve become attached to on the line facing life or death. Mike did so much work on setting up what will be an action-packed series, but he was kind with this one and gave us the ending we wanted, and I can’t really describe how happy that makes me. Golden Son by Pierce Brown made me vocally expel my anger at the ending, cliff-hangers are fun and all but sometimes it’s just really nice to have things just be ok sometimes. So, Thank you, Mike.  

I hadn’t heard of Mike before reading this book, even though I occasionally dabble in the incredible world of 40k (shout out to my boy Ibram Gaunt), but upon finding out Mike’s catalyst for writing this book was his anger from the 2016 Brexit referendum my respect for him shot through the roof. He has done a fantastic job of creating an interesting world that you really want to invest your time in, I can’t wait to see where the story goes next, to see the world continue to be fleshed out, the sprinklings of myth and magic we’ve been given so far I expect to become so much more. This was a top tier debut into the world of Fantasy for Mike and I’m excited for the rest of The God King Chronicles.

Give me more Dragons.