Genre: Adult Fantasy/Horror
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release date: March 26 2013
Source: ARC from publisher
In a word: a dangerous and violent quest, a world on the brink of collapse, and a boy and girl who might be able to save it.
I have to admit I almost stopped reading this book a quarter of the way through, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. Black Feathers isn’t the easiest book to read, but like many other books that I’ve initially struggled with in the beginning, by the end I was so wrapped up in the characters’ stories that I’m now salivating to read Volume Two. The publisher calls this “fantasy,” which it most definitely is, but I have to call it “horror” as well. I’ve been reading horror for years and it’s getting hard to scare me these days, but there were scenes in Black Feathers that truly made me shudder. D’Lacey is one of those authors who can slowly draw out a story until the reader is practically screaming from the tension. Fair warning: most of the mysteries are not solved by the end of this book, and the author raises more questions than he answers. But if you’d like to see a master of storytelling in action, you need to read Black Feathers.
The story mostly alternates between two characters: Megan is a young girl who is chosen to become the next “Keeper,” an individual whose job is to observe and record the story of a certain boy whose existence is critical to the survival of humanity. Gordon is that boy, but he lives in a different time than Megan, so she must enter “the weave” in order to cross space and time to watch Gordon’s story unfold. Most of the book takes place when Gordon turns fourteen and is forced to flee his family and home after a group called The Ward take his mother, father and two sisters away. He manages to hide, but not without having several run-ins with two horribly nasty members of the Ward named Pike and Skelton. After receiving secret letters from his parents, delivered to him by a mole who is part of a resistance group called The Green Men, Gordon decides to follow their advice and look for the mythical Crowman, a creature who may or may not be evil and could hold the fate of humanity in his hands.
As Gordon sets out on his journey, Megan has her own quest to complete. At about the same age as Gordon, she sees the frightening Crowman in the forest near her home, and is later told that he has marked her as the next Keeper. With her parents’ permission, a mysterious old man known only as Mr. Keeper takes Megan to his home and begins to train her in the duties of being a Keeper. Megan’s part of the story is full of magic, mystery, pain and danger, as she must sacrifice her childhood in order to fulfill her calling. As the story evolves, Megan and Gordon seem to be coming closer and closer together, and it appears as though the two will eventually meet. But D’Lacey has plans for these two, and they might not be what you expect.
I was completely swept up in Gordon’s story and enjoyed it more than I did Megan’s. I think the reason I liked his story better was that his world felt more grounded and believable and was easier to relate to. As he is running away from the Ward and trying to stay hidden, he comes upon various groups of people. My favorite were a father and daughter named John and Brooke who are also on the run and hiding in the forest. Gordon only spends a short time in their camp, but he forges a tight bond with both of them, and I wanted their storyline to go on longer than it did. Gordon’s journey is fraught with violence and danger, and he escapes one perilous encounter after another, leaving a trail of misery behind him.
Megan’s story, on the other hand, is told in cryptic language and has a dream-like quality throughout. It was often hard to tell what was real and what was a dream, as Megan sometimes leaves her body to travel “the black feather path,” as Mr. Keeper calls her journey. She learns many things from Mr. Keeper, but the most important, and the true theme of D’Lacey’s story, is that she must learn to live in harmony with the land. He seems to want us to come away from this book understanding that if humankind can’t learn to live in peace with nature, our very civilization will crumble. It’s a theme that’s been done before, but never quite in this way. Both Megan and Gordon must fight to survive in the wild during their journeys, and the author even throws in an earthquake to make his point: watch yourselves, humans, or mother nature can take everything away from you.
The entire book is written in D’Lacey’s gorgeous and fluid prose. Combine that with graphic violence, the mysterious Crowman who is still not explained by the end of the book, and the unanswered question of the relationship between Gordon and Megan, and you have a story that is irresistibly addicting. For patient readers who appreciate the difficult craft of good writing and storytelling, Black Feathers is a must read.