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Black Wings Beating: The Skybound Saga, Book 1

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Black Wings Beating: The Skybound Saga, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Intriguing, violent, dark fantasy about twins on bird quest.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some facts about real birds of prey and how they're handled and trained in a falconry context.

Positive Messages

Love isn't something you can earn, it's a gift that some people give and some don't. Strong bonds of family and friendship get you through hard times, solve the problems that life throws in your way, and help you face the future. These bonds are stronger when you're united, and are weakened by keeping secrets. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Twins Kylee and Brysen are each learning how to handle their own inner strengths and powers, and even learning how to know what those are. They model a strong, loyal sibling bond. They learn from their mistakes that trying to protect each other by hiding things weakens them by fostering resentment, and that truth and honesty help them become stronger and more united. Their father physically abuses Brysen in horrific ways and their mother is emotionally absent. Friends vary from being loyal and supportive to mysterious to helpful as long as it serves their own interests.

Violence

Lots of descriptions of violence, including punching, stabbing, choking, burning, being eaten alive, and killing with mentions of blood, breaking bones, and pain. A father's past brutal physical abuse is remembered with disturbing images of burning, beating, and other family members hearing screams. Pets and wild animals, mostly birds of prey, are in danger and die. A character mentions cutting himself in the past as a way of "releasing the hurt." Kylee defends herself once or twice by kneeing in the crotch.

Sex

Brysen is in a same-sex relationship in a society that doesn't care about homosexuality, so it's not discussed as an issue. Kissing is mentioned along with a few brief descriptions of physical attraction. Sex or making out are implied but not described, and there are a couple of instances of sexual innuendo. Kylee doesn't have romantic feelings at the moment but appreciates the friendship of a boy who's in love with her.

Language

"Crap."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brysen has a strong habit of chewing "hunter's leaf," which has a drug-like effect of helping tolerate pain and muddling the head a bit. Painful hangover symptoms are mentioned after a night at the tavern. Mention of tavern customers smoking water pipes and the "sickly sweet" aroma from them.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Black Wings Beating is a dark fantasy with plenty of violence. Sometimes it's a bit graphic or gory with disturbing images, especially memories of past physical abuse. There's also punching, bones crunching, mentions of blood, stabbing, chocking, and killing. Pets and wild animals, mostly birds of prey, are also in peril and some die. Same-sex relationships are normal here, and main character Brysen, 16, is in a same-sex relationship; his twin sister, Kylee, isn't interested in romance or sex. There's some descriptions of romantic feelings and physical attraction, but most sexual activity beyond a couple of kisses is implied, not shown. Brysen's a habitual user of "hunter's leaf," which is like chewing tobacco that relieves pain and muddles the mind. Hangover symptoms are described once, although the teens aren't directly described drinking alcohol. It's intended as a series kickoff, so role models and positive messages may not be fully formed, but Brysen and Kylee model strong bonds of loyalty and family, and the story explores themes about recognizing and using your own powers and strengths, being stronger together, and that love isn't something you can earn -- it's a gift that's either given or not. 

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What's the story?

The BLACK WINGS BEATING continue to haunt twins Kylee and Brysen long after their abusive father died trying to capture the rarest bird in the world, the ghost eagle. When Brysen's boyfriend Dymian gets into trouble over gambling debts, Brysen volunteers to capture a ghost eagle and exchange it for Dymian's life and debt. Brysen's only ever wanted to prove his falconry skills and continue the family business, but he doesn't have any real talent for it. Kylee got all the talent, but wants nothing more than to get out of their small town and see something of world. But she can't let her twin brother go on such a dangerous quest alone. They'll have to confront the Owl Mothers, cross frozen landscapes, and keep one step ahead of the gangs hoping for a chance to steal the eagle once, and if, Brysen can capture it.

Is it any good?

Fans of dark fantasy will no doubt enjoy this intriguing series opener with its vast world and complex, believable characters. But a couple of weaknesses might keep Dark Wings Beating from holding the interest of readers who're new to the genre. First is the sense that world of bird-worship and falconry was created not because author Alex London has a real passion for birds himself but because it seemed like a safe choice that hasn't already been done to death. Plotting is another weakness, with events unfolding pretty much along expected lines.

The strengths of the book lie in the relatable teen protagonists and the evocative, often disturbing descriptions of action and vivid, atmospheric depictions of many of the settings. Teens will relate to Kylee and Bryce as they discover who they are, what they mean to each other, what they can do with themselves and for each other, and learn how to face an uncertain future. The story doesn't end here, and those readers who've enjoyed the journey so far will be eager to see what happens next.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Black Wings Beating. How much is too much? Does it matter if it's fantasy violence or not? How is reading about it different from watching it on TV, in movies, or playing violent games?

  • Why are so many fantasies written as series instead of a single book? What are some of your favorite fantasy series?

  • Lots of books and other media make it seem like sexual activity is normal for teens, and lots of people in real life wonder if there's something wrong with not being ready or even interested in sex yet. Do you feel that kind of pressure in your life? Kylee doesn't seem to. Why not?

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