Black Wings Beating by Alex London
In the land of Uztar, birds of prey are revered by all and worshipped by some. Twins, Brysen and Kylee, were raised by their cruel, bird-handling father. After his death (dealt by the talons of the legendary Ghost Eagle), Brysen and Kylee must continue the family business in order to pay their father’s gambling and drinking debts. Kylee has a strange gift for communicating with the birds (that she would prefer to keep secret) but longs to walk away from her responsibilities to both the birds and her needy mother. While not possessing a gift, Brysen has a talent with the birds, especially the falcon and his longtime falcon companion, Shara. In fact, Brysen dreams of becoming the best falconer in their world. For now, he fights in the battle pits, where falconers fight against each other on the ground while their falcons (tied onto the falconers) fight each other in the air. After Brysen achieves a huge victory in the pits, he discovers that his boyfriend, the love of his life, bet against him. Brysen learns that Dymian committed this betrayal out of desperation. Dymian owes serious money to Uztar’s version of the Mob. Brysen offers him the money he and his sister have worked years to earn (just as they are finally ready to pay off their debt), but the creditor will only accept the Ghost Eagle as payment. Yep, THAT Ghost Eagle. Brysen is determined to capture the Ghost Eagle - not only for Dymian, but in order to achieve the greatness Brysen has always desired (and his father never thought he could attain) and in order to achieve something his father never could. He sets off on his quest alone but Kylee knows he needs her in order to succeed. What follows is nothing but adventure and danger because while Brysen and Kylee are hunting the Ghost Eagle, others are hunting them.
I can honestly say that I have never read a book quite like this one. “A YA Fantasy set in the world of cut-throat falconry.” What does that even mean? It means you are in store for a treat of worldbuilding that’s not the same ol’ fantasy setting. In addition to the setting, I also liked the sibling dynamic. Brysen and Kylee are very different and each desperately wants that quality he/she feels he/she is missing. Even though there is definitely an element of jealousy, these two have a shared history that absolutely no one else can understand and they will defend and protect each other no matter what. On a fun note, London’s descriptions of birds and their handlers reminded me of Pokemon and their trainers.
"Pokemon Trainers" art by ColetteBrunel179, DeviantArt
It was an honor to host author, Alex London, in the Fort Zumwalt West HS Library on his book’s release day! He talked about his weirdness as a teen (embrace your uniqueness!), how the plot of a story is like an orgasm (yep, he said it!), and how his research on birds of prey unexpectedly added to the non-bird aspects of his plot (#themoreyouknow !). As it happens, the first meeting of FZW’s GSA (Gender & Sexuality Diversity Alliance) was after school on the day of Alex’s visit. We invited him to join us and he kindly accepted! It was a thrill to have a real, live, professional, gay man attend our meeting! Seriously, though, how great for our LGBT teens to have this man as a role model. He made quite an impact. Thank you, Alex London!
As Alex autographed books for students, he had students autograph his personal copy of his book. How cool is that?