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Review: Don’t Bloody the Black Flag by James Lloyd Dulin

“The fight for peace is often a war.”

Don't Bloody the Black Flag Dulin is back to build out and enrich his sensational Malitu series with a brand-new prequel novella, Don’t Bloody the Black Flag. And to no one’s surprise, this propulsive and dynamic story packs an immense punch in just a few utterly gripping pages.

Don’t Bloody the Black Flag takes place about 200 years before the events of No Heart for a Thief, and introduces a completely new set of fascinating and emotionally complex characters. We finally get a glimpse of what life in Ennea was like before the devastating invasion and occupation that takes centre stage in the main novels, and it’s a lot less pretty or peaceful than you might have expected.

One of my favourite aspects of the Malitu series is the absolutely marvellous spirit magic system, so I was extremely happy to discover that it is so heavily featured in Don’t Bloody the Black Flag. Because the magic is not yet outlawed when this story takes place, we get to see all kinds of spirit dancers in tune with their element, using their powers for both good and bad. While I am generally not the biggest fan of action-packed stories, all the cinematic action scenes here just completely captured my imagination and came to life before my eyes.

And it is truly a testament to Dulin’s skill as a storyteller that he manages to maintain that sense of wonder and never breaks the immersion, even when tackling some quite heavy topics and real-world issues. Themes of war, power, cultural identity, racism, and (necessary) violence are explored in such intimate and meaningful ways through the characters’ personal journeys, and the earned character growth is truly astounding for such a short page count.

While I was initially a bit nervous that Don’t Bloody the Black Flag wouldn’t be as impactful without all my favourite characters from the main novels, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I latched onto the new characters here. Isála immediately proved to be a very intriguing protagonist with a surprisingly compelling backstory, and I was really impressed with how well fleshed-out and vibrant all the supporting characters were. 

Dulin just has a way of writing flawed and complex characters who you can love, hate, or feel deeply conflicted on in the best way possible. And on top of that, I really enjoy all the compelling interpersonal relationships that lie at the heart of this series and drive each character forward. Whether it’s dysfunctional and estranged familial relationships, unlikely friendships, or deep-seated animosities, every single dynamic is just written in a painfully realistic way, which is exactly what gives this story so much heart.

Now, whether Don’t Bloody the Black Flag is a good introduction to the Malitu series honestly depends on what type of reader you are. Unlike No Heart for a Thief, this novella is quite action-packed and fast-paced, which could possibly make all the in-world terms feel quite overwhelming if you are not yet familiar with the concepts.

I personally think No Heart for a Thief has a stronger opening and steadier pacing throughout, but if you like that ‘drop in, no hand-holding’ approach and enjoy more action-packed stories, then I think Don’t Bloody the Black Flag is a great way to get a taste of Dulin’s exceptional skill as an author and storyteller. It showcases the entrancing world building, impactful theme work, lyrical and mesmerizing prose, and heavy emotional gut punches that are the hallmark of the Malitu series, but all just condensed into a shorter and more propulsive narrative.

All in all, I think Don’t Bloody the Black Flag delivered exactly what it promised, and I had a great time being back in Ennea for a short while. If you haven’t yet checked out the Malitu series, then you are sorely missing out on one of the most refreshing, original, diverse, powerful, and emotionally poignant fantasy series currently being written. Highly recommend!

Thank you to the author for providing me with a free eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Don’t Bloody the Black Flag is now free to download by signing up to the author’s newsletter. 

Don’t Bloody the Black Flag

Don’t Bloody the Black Flag

Don’t Bloody the Black Flag

Don’t Bloody the Black Flag

Don’t Bloody the Black Flag

Don’t Bloody the Black Flag

Don’t Bloody the Black Flag

Don’t Bloody the Black Flag

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