I first read this book in July 2009, but I just re-read it again (in January 2014), and wanted to use this opportunity to update my review. I wanted to update it because I truly love this book, and I don't feel that my prior review really gave it justice.
First off, it's a shame that this book isn't more accessible, as it really is a great piece of epic fantasy. What's even more amazing is that Freda Warrington began writing this story when she was 16! A Blackbird in Silver Darkness, which is the combined omnibus of the first two books in this series (A Blackbird in Silver and A Blackbird in Darkness), pulls you into a unique fantasy realm, one which the Serpent M'gulfn is terrorizing. Three strangers, who couldn't be more different from each other, are united in their quest to slay the serpent and save the world. They each have different motives for wanting to do so, but it is as these motives unravel that you find yourself completely absorbed in this book, its characters, and the world that the author has created.
The story itself was pretty riveting, albeit not overly original. A fantasy epic involving some sort of quest to kill an evil creature is not necessarily a new idea, but the Serpent M'gulfn, whom Warrington really developed and gave life to, was a strong, unique presence in the book. The perils that the three characters faced throughout the book kept me constantly glued to the pages, although, I found the second half of the quest (A Blackbird in Darkness) to drag in sections, as it seemed to have a slower pace and lack the focus of the first book (A Blackbird in Silver).
The writing itself is accessible, making it easy to absorb yourself in the book if you're enjoying it, but I wouldn't necessarily say that the writing is one of the book's strong suits. You'll find the occasional typo, along with some oft repeated vocabulary and phrases, and you won't see beauty in words like you will with a writer such as Guy Gavriel Kay. It can also be a bit disjointing at times. Yet, the writing is descriptive without being ornate, which makes it easy to feel involved in the story and world. The writing also painted a clear mood throughout the novel. The characters' adventures were always wrought with angst, and in fact, almost the entire book had a despairing tone, so keep in mind that this isn't a "light" read.
Regarding the world-building, I am severely impressed by the complex setting that the author was able to create, especially at such a young age. At the same time, while there are a lot of different places, people, and creatures to keep track of, many of whom have very elaborate fantasy-esque names, the book isn't so overly complicated to need a glossary (which is good, since one isn't included). For me, that hits the "just right" chord in an epic fantasy, as having to constantly refer to glossaries or appendices can be a bit too laborious for my tastes.
As for the characters - they are fascinating, especially the three main protagonists, who were very fleshed out and developed over the course of the story. Personally, I found myself most intrigued by Medrian, who became one of my all-time favorite fantasy characters. Her background is kept the most mysterious of the three lead characters, with hints thrown in here and there so that you can figure it out (or get a good idea of what's up) before it's revealed halfway through the novel. She is a tragic figure, but despite her coldness to those around her, you can't help but feel attached to her because of what she's been forced to endure.
However, in my opinion, this book fell short of perfection because of the ending. It wasn't the conclusion of the quest that bothered me, but rather, the aftermath of the quest. It's hard to explain why without providing spoilers, but basically, it was the tone of the ending that I found irksome.
Despite the fact that the ending didn't sit well with me, though (and really, just the last five pages), that doesn't change the fact that this is a superb read -- one which kept me absorbed and entranced for many enjoyable hours.