A book review: Black Feathers

Title: Black Feathers

Author: Joseph D’Lacey

Publisher: Expected publication March 26th 2013 by Angry Robot

Synopsis: Black Feathers is a modern fantasy set in two epochs: the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse, and generations into the future in its aftermath, the Bright Day.

In each era, a child undertakes a perilous journey to find a dark messiah known as The Crowman. In their hands lies the fate of the planet as they attempt to discover whether The Crowman is our saviour… or the final incarnation of evil.

From Goodreads

e-ARC courtesy of Angry Robot via NetGalley

I joined Netgalley about a month ago and I was so excited at the prospect of all these books. You can imagine, for me, it was like being in a sweet shop with someone else’s credit card. Regardless of this feeling I wanted my first choices to be GOOD. So I requested Elen Caldecott and then I recognised the name D’Lacey and thought: ooh that’s the chap who wrote that lovely story about Dragons.

Well the very next day my requests were accepted and as I followed the many instructions to finally get these books on my kindle app I began to suspect something was amiss. There on the front cover of Black Feathers were the words ‘Jospeh D’Lacey rocks!’ written by none other than Stephen King. Then there was another quote that mentioned the word ‘horror’, followed by another. After a quick google  I realised that while I had made a mistake it was understandable as the two writers share the same surname. Anyway enough about that, my point is that I was no longer so sure that I would definitely enjoy the book. For a start Stephen did a good job of scaring the pants off me as a teenager and furnishing my nightmares with enough monsters that I’ve kind of avoided the genre for a good long while.

The book starts with a prologue, which to be frank, I didn’t quite see the point of. While it begins to build the mythology, having now finished the book I don’t think it adds anything that isn’t further explored or clarified within the story. I then found the next few chapters confusing and disorientating. I understood that there were two narratives, one that follows Gordon Black from birth and another which follows Megan Maurice. Gordon’s narrative takes place during our time frame in, whereas I wasn’t sure at first when Megan’s story was happening.

The story really starts to take off when Mr Keeper comes to visit Megan’s parents and explains that Megan has been chosen by the Crowman to be a keeper. Up until this point the two stories seem unconnected and disparate, but as the reader accompanies Megan in her training we begin to realise that in actual fact the stories are intricately linked. At this point Gordon’s story also begins to take off as he is faced with trial after trial as he is is driven by the desperate goal of saving his family.

Once I understood how linked the stories were it was interesting to see other connections and contrasts. For instance the pace of Megan’s story is quite calm and peaceful, whereas Gordon’s is filled with tension. Gordon’s narrative is in the past tense (a clue I missed at the beginning), whereas Megan’s is present, it’s happening as we read. It is a strength of the writing that I didn’t actually notice this difference at first. I say this because writing bad present tense is easier than you think.

I found the pace of the book quite slow, but in a good way. When I think about what actually happened there isn’t an awful lot, but what did happen was this gradual build up of knowledge of the Crowman mythology. I liked the fact that  this entity was not black or white. When I think of traditional descriptions of evil and good, it’s all rather clear-cut, whereas in reality it’s never like that. Part of the Crowman mythology is a great respect for the land. In a way it’s almost quite fervent, but what makes it so believable is that in journeying with Gordon we live through his change and his growing understanding of how we should respect the land. His moment of realisation is quite revealing in that he choses to use certain words, which he had been feeling, but in a way was too embarrassed to use before.

The two characters development was also interesting. We start with Gordon from birth, but the reader really gets to know him when the trouble with the Ward begins. We felt his fear and powerlessness as he begins to go on the run. Gordon is never described as a gung-ho and off on a quest. He is troubled and never knows if he is doing the right thing. He is weak and strong in equal measure, he fights for his life and is vengeful. But most of all we see him developing.

Megan’s character was a little more shaky. She started off quite babyish and then matured very quickly. Given the immense task she has been given, I guess this is realistic, but that was probably part of the confusion I felt with the first quarter of the book. After she has entered the weave for the first time and begins to understand her task, her character develops a little more clearly.

Two other recurring characters are Pike and Skelton who are members of the Ward trying to capture Gordon. I wasn’t too sure about these two, at first they were just the baddies, but as we spend more time with Skelton became a little stereotypical, which is a shame, as the mythology of the book is anything but and plays on being multifaceted. I’m not sure about Pike yet, or even what he is. I suppose this idea of the ward is also a recurring character and one that I wasn’t always a hundred percent comfortable with. Perhaps it’s because they are being seen and described by a fourteen year old boy, but their ideology seemed a little simplistic to me and I wondered how they could have gained so much power.

Generally, the review is a bit mixed. There were things I didn’t like, but on the whole I really liked a lot more. I found this book made me think more than scared me. There are scenes of horror within the book, but part of what makes it horrific is that is all things described could happen. There were a few bits that had my eyebrows arching (in Chapter 65) and raised a lot of questions (such as the concept of the Ward), but on the whole I really liked the world-building and myth making. I was completely sucked into Megan’s world  and Gordon’s story enough to want to know what happens in the next book. The ending left us on a cliff and I’m not sure where the book is going to go, but I kind of like that. I liked the writing and the descriptions were beautiful (even when describing horror). This book is not an easy read, there are things that challenge your way of thinking without being preachy.

I give this book:

2 responses to “A book review: Black Feathers

  1. Pingback: Review: Black Feathers | Tien's Blurb·

  2. Writing about books is tricky, isn’t it? I always feel a bit reticent about criticising (even though I do) but I suppose I feel that, having actually gone to the trouble of reading something, I have a right to like or dislike it. Or hover between the two.

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