Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Shadow of Black Wings (The Year of the Dragon, #1)” as Want to Read:
The Shadow of Black Wings (The Year of the Dragon, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Shadow of Black Wings

(The Year of the Dragon #1)

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  424 ratings  ·  68 reviews
The divination clock is broken. The Year of the Dragon is coming.

In the midst of 19th century the world trembles before the might of the Dragon Throne’s ironclad navy and the dreaded Dragon Corps. A young dragon raider Bran joins a regiment of the Royal Marines, led by his estranged father, on a journey to the war-torn Orient.

In the lands of Yamato, sealed behind the Divin
Paperback, 338 pages
Published July 16th 2012 by Flying Squid (first published January 1st 2012)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Shadow of Black Wings, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Shadow of Black Wings

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.54  · 
Rating details
 ·  424 ratings  ·  68 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Shadow of Black Wings (The Year of the Dragon, #1)
Sep 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: indie, well-edited
Upfront disclaimer: I know the author slightly through interacting with him on Google+, which is why I bought the book. I paid full price and he hasn't given me any incentives to do a review or say nice things. I'm going to be critical in any case, not because I didn't like the book (I did), but because I think he can take it.

I'll start by saying that it's well-written, well-edited and (as far as I could tell, not being an expert on 19th-century Japan or Wales) well-researched. This already puts
Brian Wilkerson
Aug 23, 2012 rated it liked it
A Trickster Eric Novels review

I was asked by James Calbraith to read and review his debut novel "Shadows of Black Wings". It's the first book in the "Year of the Dragon Series". In terms of plot I can't tell you much (more on that later) but the gist of it comes in two parts: 1.) Bran is a boy fresh out of college and isn't sure what to do with his life. 2.) Conspiracies both mundane and supernatural brew in Yamato while the world outside it seeks entrance.

The book's strongest point is world bu
Candace Knoebel
Jul 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Shadow of Black Wings is a thoroughly captivating read and I was extrememly surprised by how quickly I fell into it. I don't typically read historical fantasy, but James captured the eastern civilization with such ease, it was hard not to feel like I had been there myself.

It starts off following young Bran around as he graduates. He is a dragon rider who has skimmed by in all his classes and won't give up on his dragon Emrys who has yet to stray from him. His rebellion leads to the discovery
Brooke Johnson
Jan 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading this book, so much in fact, that I ordered the next book before I finished the first. I love the fantasy elements and the exploratory nature of the first half of the story. The world is based on our own, but it has enough differences that it feels brand new, but with the depth of our own history, making it a rich, complex story world. The varying magics are interesting and apparently well thought out, and each of the characters has some degree of control over one of the ...more
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, owned
I will admit – the steampunk potential of this story combined with some paranormal/fantasy had me intrigued. I was not disappointed in the least. The lush recreation of the Victorian Empire is presented with some familiar elements, yet imaginative details and additions, magic and dragons and a taste of elements similar to The Art of War by Sun Tzu, enrich and provide elements that demand notice. With a map provided to help readers follow and organize the story in their own mind, the multiple cha ...more
Matt Kelland
Oct 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
A fantastic melange of alternate history, fantasy, and steampunk, with a great mixture of Victoriana, Celtic mythology and samurai. Calbraith has created a wonderful world that hooked me right from the opening: Celtic dragon riders in the service of Empress Victoria on a mission to Japan. It's magnificently genre-busting, and well recommended for those who like Naomi Novik and such.

My only gripe is that I wanted the story to focus more on the Celtic characters and less on the Japanese, and I wan
L.T. Getty
I'm not an expert on Victorian Wales and my knowledge of Japan is based on less than three years of kendo. That being said, I thought this was a great debut novel about coming of age and clashing cultures - with steampunk, dragons and attention to historical detail. My critiques are mostly nitpicky - I thought it could get a little wordy at times, but the world felt foreign enough for me that I did need explanation to understand the context. The ending makes it feel like it's part of a series an ...more
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was really great. It got my attention because of the cover, but it captivated me quickly after having read only a few pages.
There are elements of Steampunk and Magic, but unlike so many other books of late, where Steampunk seems to be crammed into the book just because it's 'in', here the elements seem just right, as if there was no other way how it could be for the story.
It's a book about great adventure, mysteries, intrigue and the change from adolescence to adulthood.
I'm really exci
Andrea Jackson
A very, very good book. Lots of varied characters, excellent use of history. This world was so real and so imaginative. I also appreciated positive views of people from non-European cultures.
Geoffrey G. N. Harrison
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting tale of a young lad just fresh out of college and setting out in the world.

Its an alternate Victorian history story with magic and dragons and steampunk technology.

Let's start with the not so good:

- There are some occasions where the wrong words used. To be fair to the author, this book is written in English and he's from Poland and there are only a few (probably no more than half a dozen). It's a minor niggle really but it is one of the things that stopped this being a 5
Open Books
A massive fantasy series is not something I’d consider a perfect read for me. However, this time there were some things that got me hooked. First of all, one of the most exciting aspects of the series is the construction of the fantasy world and while many authors are too lazy to really make it something special, Calbraith certainly isn’t one of them. Also, he takes what’s best from a few genres – YA fiction, historical fiction, steampunk... One could say that it’s impossible to successfully mix ...more
Matthew Farmer
Jul 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has that feel of something epic about to happen. It is a superb first act with heroes and villains, intrigue and subterfuge.

As a writer I can feel that James has done a lot of good, solid world-building. The layer of magic and fantasy which he drapes over 'real world' fits seamlessly. It is at the same time familiar and wonderfully new.

It is paced perfectly, not rushed, letting you absorb each part of the story before being introduced to something new.

There were a few formatting issues
Andrew Lawston
Jul 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Shadow of Black Wings is a brilliant debut novel by James Calbraith, which blends fantasy with alternate history to conjure a Victorian world full of dragons and magic and derring-do. With the vast majority of placenames altered dramatically, it can take a few moments to realise the places being described, but by keeping his story grounded in our (albeit altered) world, Calbraith is able to exploit the mythologies of several cultures for a much more layered and subtle fantasy environment tha ...more
Sep 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Imagine a really well written historical fiction, taking place in the mid 1800’s, focusing on the adventures and intrigues occurring in and around imperial Japan. Now add an element of alternative history: the Roman Empire was never vanquished and is vying with other European powers for access to the Orient. And then top that off with a rich layer of dragons, magic and other fantasy elements. That’s what you have with The Shadow of Black Wings. James Calbraith does a wonderful job at weaving fac ...more
Mar 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: listened
Not bad. Actually a little better than that. I'm looking forward to getting the second book from when it is available. it felt like a really strange mash-up to me. It was part Rowling's Harry Potter, part Paolini's Eragon, and part Clavelle's Shogun. I'm not sure how the next part will go, but I'll figure that out when I read it. ...more
Josiah Schilling
Apr 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! It something new and different from all the other magic books I'v read. I like how it's a mix of steampunk and fantasy. This is one of those books that is a great read that you can't put down. ...more
Cristina Higgins
Oct 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful fantasy and adventure. Loved the interaction between Bran, Sato and Nagomi. Read the first three I. One weekend and am looking forward to the 3 rd book.
Aaron Engler
Apr 24, 2013 rated it liked it
You might like this book if:

You like alternate history
You are a fan of well crafted, immersive worlds
You like dragons in your steampunk


Shadow of the Black Wings is an alternate history set in Victorian times, where magic and dragons are commonplace.

The burden of any writer daring to write alternate history is that the reader might ask why are things the way they are. As a reader, I try to think of what makes a fantasy world the way it is. If this is supposed to be Earth,
2.5 stars.

Doesn’t this book remind you of Stormdancer just the tiniest bit? Well I thought it did. At least I can say with this story is that the author did a lot more research for this. There are no strange names, suffixes are used correctly (-sama!), and there is no weeabo Japanese running rampant in the text or dialogue! Freaking hallelujah! That automatically gives it +100 points! So I’m not going to pick apart smaller things because I’m already too happy with these things to care now.

The wo
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Review posted on first.

The Shadow of Black Wings is the first book in the series ‘The Year of the Dragon’, written by James Calbraith. It’s a young adult fantasy book, complete with dragon rides, magic, and demons. This series is an alternate history story set in Prydain, an alternate version of Brittain, Qin, an alternate China, and Yamato, an alternate Japan.

The novel follows the story of Bran, a young man who has just graduated as a dragon rider. He’s still not sure what he want
Jinx:The:Poet {the Literary Masochist, Ink Ninja & Word Roamer}
**FREE on**

The Shadow of Black Wings (The Year of the Dragon, #1)

The Shadow of Black Wings by James Calbraith, was a very interesting fantasy novel, the first book of the Year of the Dragon series. Overall, this was a very enjoyable read, full of interesting characters and excellent world building, although this book is rather a slow boil and takes some time for the plot to unfold and the story to quicken.

"The divination clock is broken. The Year of the Dragon is coming.

In the mi
Rebecca Graf
Mar 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A young boy struggles with taking the steps toward his future. Not yet a man, yet not a child anymore he goes on an adventure that will change his life. The Shadow of Black Wings is a riveting tale of adventure, growth, and discovering the truth.

The story is not fast paced but not too slow, either. It keeps the reader engaged even when the slower, descriptive sections of the book are read. The action is captivating as is the storyline. As the story progresses, other storylines merge into the mai
**✿❀ Maki ❀✿**
The first half of The Shadow of Black Wings was a bit hard to read. It's not that it was boring, or anything. I just had to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how all of the names were pronounced - I'm terrible with Celtic names. Things got much easier in the second half of the book, which took place in future/not-quite-past Japan. I find it a bit sad that I had better luck figuring out the Japanese names than I did the Celtic and Norse ones.

The story itself is part fantasy, part alternate
James Calbraith
Jun 20, 2012 added it  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, fantasy, dragons
"Fast paced and full of energy"
Adrian Tchaikovsky

"This manuscript is full of highly crafted detail that will make readers shiver at times with fear and delight ... a familiar yet highly original fantasy that is a worthwhile read."
— Publisher's Weekly.

"I project a hit ...the writing itself is great."
— ABNA Expert Reviewers.
Dec 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: steampunk
A good read and well built story.
Overall I thought this book was fun to read, and I'm glad I read it, but I've got a lot of mixed emotions about it.

What if Earth was a fantasy world?

*The Shadow of Black Wings* takes place in a 19th century alternate history where our world's civilizations developed alongside magic, and cultural folklore is truth. People live alongside dragons and fae and djinn. The Arthurian Legends were true, for example, along with the "divine wind" that protects the isolated Yamato Empire (Japan). Aside fro
Debra Barstad
for me this book was just ok. I normally don't read this type of book. It contains historical/fantasy and the story was ok but not my cup of tea. the writing was good so that was not the issue I had with the book. ...more
Jul 26, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
enjoyed this. good characters, interesting perspective but only got 3 stars as its not really a stand alone and yes I knew it is part of a trilogy but was expecting each book to be a complete section
Matt Kelland
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great fun - and now there's more of them! ...more
Entertaining at moment but I never really got into the story. Too many storylines.
« previous 1 3 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Paper Menagerie
  • Salt
  • Vision in Silver (The Others, #3)
  • Murder of Crows (The Others, #2)
  • The Queen's Weapons (The Black Jewels #11)
  • Written in Red (The Others, #1)
  • Wolf Island: Discovering the Secrets of a Mythic Animal
  • Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future
  • Getaway
  • Vaccine Season
  • St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid
  • Killer of Kings
  • The Regression Test
  • Flyboys
  • The World Without Us
  • Nina Kimberly the Merciless
  • What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures
  • Greater Good (Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy, #2)
See similar books…
James Calbraith is a Poland-born British writer, foodie and traveller.

Growing up in communist Poland on a diet of powdered milk, Lord of the Rings and soviet science-fiction, he had his first story published at the ripe age of eight. After years of bouncing around Polish universities, he moved to London in 2007 and started writing in English. His debut historical fantasy novel, "The Shadow of Blac

Other books in the series

The Year of the Dragon (8 books)
  • The Warrior's Soul (The Year of the Dragon, #2)
  • The Islands in the Mist (The Year of the Dragon #3)
  • The Rising Tide (The Year of the Dragon, #4)
  • The Chrysanthemum Seal (The Year of the Dragon #5)
  • The Withering Flame (The Year of the Dragon, #6)
  • The Shattering Waves (The Year of the Dragon, #7)
  • The Last Dragon King (The Year of the Dragon, Book 8)

Related Articles

Now that we’re halfway through the year, it’s time to check in on the 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge, our rigorous annual initiative for book...
173 likes · 45 comments