The Book of the Crowman (Black Dawn #2) by Joseph D’Lacey
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release date: February 25 2014
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
The nitty-gritty: Violent but compelling, heartbreaking yet hopeful, the harrowing journey of two characters finally comes to an end.
There had once been industrial parks and truck stops on both sides of the road. Over the years people had dumped rubbish alongside the verges and the black refuse sacks were caught forever in the barbed grip of the hedgerows. Shredded by thorns, the ribbons of black plastic fluttered and shivered in the constant wind. They made a sound like prayer flags, though what the words of the prayer might be, Gordon couldn’t imagine. The bags would still be caught there, dancing to the touch of the wind in a thousand years, whether the people of this land survived or not.
The Book of the Crowman is the second book of D’Lacey’s duology, The Black Dawn. Last year I read and really enjoyed Black Feathers (you can read my review here), and I was looking forward to finding out the fates of the characters. Crowman is constructed in much the same way as Black Feathers, with two main characters alternating chapters, as the reader sees what’s happening through their very different points of view. Gordon is still on his quest for the elusive Crowman, a bird-like man who may possibly be able to save the world from destruction. Megan’s story runs parallel to Gordon’s, but she exists in a different place and time. The tension from the last book mostly came from the knowledge that their two paths would eventually cross, and in this final book, that does happen, but not in quite the way I expected. D’Lacey once again brings so much skill to his story: gorgeous prose, Gordon’s dangerous and exciting survival story, and the drawn-out mystery of who the Crowman really is.
Gordon’s story takes place in a sort of dystopian future London, where a group called the Ward are trying to take control of the population and eradicate the peaceful Green Men who want to live in harmony with the land. Gordon is on the run from the Ward, who want to stop him from uniting the people against them. Gordon has been told that he must find the Crowman, a possibly mythic creature who is the key to a future free from the Ward’s control.
Megan is studying with Mr. Keeper and learning to walk “the black feathered path.” She has been chosen by the Crowman to be the chronicler of Gordon’s life. By going into the “weave,” she can cross time and space and observe Gordon and write about his adventures.
Both narratives move inexorably toward a final showdown between the Green Men and the Ward, but it’s uncertain up until the end who will emerge the victor.
Just as I did in Black Feathers, I preferred Gordon’s story over Megan’s. Most of the action takes place while Gordon is trying to stay one step ahead of the Ward, and I loved the sense of desperation as Gordon and his friends are forced to run for their lives. Along the way, he meets a girl named Denise and her precocious daughter Flora, and for a while, they team up to try to stay alive. I adored Flora, a girl who is more than meets the eye and who has an interesting connection to Megan. Gordon is a very complex character, and even though I didn’t like all his decisions, I loved his sense of duty and justice. He’s driven by his love for his family, who have been taken by the Ward (and may even be dead), and he feels a need to follow through with his mother’s request to search for the Crowman.
Interspersed throughout the story are letters written by Gordon’s little sister Jude, who is in fact still alive but has been captured and is being treated horribly. These passages were so heartbreaking, especially since Jude is never sure whether or not Gordon is actually getting her letters. I thought this was an excellent way for the author to refer back to the events that happened in Black Feathers.
Megan’s story, however, was much more slow and dreamy, and seemed completely removed from what was happening to Gordon. Megan is on an emotional journey, rather than one of action, so her chapters had a completely different feel to them. I did love her relationship with Mr. Keeper, especially when she discovers one of his secrets.
What shocked me the most in this book was some over-the-top violence that I wasn’t expecting. Gordon had a dual personality that just didn’t seem to fit his character. On one hand he’s trying to defeat the enemy and bring peace back to the land. But then he turns on his enemies and gruesomely eviscerates them, and does so with a smile on his face. D’Lacey clinically describes each thrust of the sword, exactly how long a man’s intestines are and how they look draped at his feet. Now don’t get me wrong: I love horror and I rarely shy away from the gory bits. But for me, graphic violence works best when tempered with humor. I happen to like some comedy along with my beheadings! The Book of the Crowman has very little humor, and so for me the violence was sometimes gratuitous.
The other thing that didn’t quite work was the heavy-handed religious allegory. I don’t want to spoil things by explaining it, but as the story goes along, it becomes clear that Gordon is a messiah figure, and his actions become almost predictable by the end.
Although D’Lacey clearly has some messages to impart to the reader—that technology might be destroying us and that humans are not taking care of the land as we should be—they mostly take a backseat to an exciting adventure tale. If you enjoy a well-told story that makes you ponder the possible fate of the human race, The Book of the Crowman is a must read.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Next week I have an interview with Joseph, so make sure to check back soon!
You can find The Book of the Crowman here: