Angry Robot (March 2013)
Ebook, 496 pages
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. (Goodreads)
Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey is one of those clever books which take a genre you think you know and completely twists it around so you don’t even know which way is up anymore.
What I mean by this is the unique mixture of fantasy and dystopian fiction present in this book, with an entirely refreshing new concept of The Crowman. Also called Blackjack and The Scarecrow, no one is entirely sure who or what The Crowman is, with some believing he is the earth’s saviour and others believing he is the devil himself. All anyone seems able to say about him is that he is the key to the solving the mystery of the Black Dawn, and could be humanity’s only hope.
To rewind a second, the Black Dawn is that middle stage between normality and the end of the world. Set in two separate eras, one character’s story gives us an insight to the deterioration of the world, whilst the other gives us an overview of what the world is like in the future. All we know is that The Crowman is the connecting force between both eras, and that our two protagonists are determined to seek him out no matter what.
Our first protagonist is Gordon Black, whose birth and childhood we are introduced to at the beginning of the book. There is something different about this child, the mysterious boy with the black hair and grey eyes who is born to blonde parents. His parents are protective of him, as is one of his sisters (the other seeming jealous of him), and we are told of the presence of ravens in their garden, which his father immediately shoots down with his shotgun.
Gordon’s side of the story then progresses a few years to his pre-adolescence, and the start of the Black Dawn. An organization called The Ward has slowly been infiltrating the parliaments of the world, and is now in control of the country. They are trying to brainwash the public to their way of thinking and are limiting the supplies of necessities such as food. Having been prepared for something like this, Gordon’s father has been hoarding food, petrol and ammunition to keep his family safe, but it isn’t long before The Ward come calling for them. They take away Gordon’s entire family to one of their interrogation centres, leaving Gordon alone to survive in the wilderness.
The Ward are desperate to stop anyone from discovering The Crowman, as he is the only one who could potentially destroy their plans for domination. Therefore they are determined to beat Gordon in his search, starting out in pursuit of this child. Gordon knows nothing of The Crowman, only that his family’s last message to him was that he must find him, as he is their last hope. All Gordon wants is his family back, and will do whatever it takes to be reunited with them.
Our second protagonist is Megan Maurice, again a pre-adolescent, in the future times after the devastating effects of the Black Dawn. She lives with her parents, and she has dreams of The Crowman which are beginning to recur more and more often. Megan dismisses these as nothing, but The Keeper, who keeps a spiritual watch over their village, identifies Megan as his successor. He invites her to walk the Black Feathered path, leaving behind all she knows to pursue The Crowman and become the first female Keeper, and the most powerful.
Her journey with The Keeper brings her into contact with the past and with Gordon, mostly via her dreams. It is her job to document the story of this mysterious boy, and by keeping the story alive she keeps the search for The Crowman alive. D’Lacey very subtly blends the stories of the two characters together, and at times it was a little confusing of whether or not Megan was dreaming, and it remains unanswered how she is able to interact with Gordon.
The plot of this novel may sound complex, and it many ways it is, but the world is very cleverly constructed, with a lot of time being spent in Gordon’s perspective to build up to the Black Dawn. It is representative of dystopian fiction in the ways in which characters react in the aftermath of all this destruction, and as a result there are some highly disturbing, horror-movie-worthy scenes which really made me shudder. As shocking as it was, I loved that this was one of the few books to really make me squirm and D’Lacey makes us understand how easy it is for people to succumb to violence in times of desperation.
I loved the build up of the characters too, as the harsh ways of the world really make their mark upon Gordon, and he is forced to grow up quickly and become acquainted with more violence than any child should have to deal with. More mysteries about his character are built up towards the end of the novel, and I am desperate to know where he will go from here and whether my suspicions about him are right.
As for Megan, her character felt a little slower to develop, but I think this was because the primary focus at the beginning was upon Gordon in order to develop the world. However, once we reach the end of the book there is more focus upon Megan’s journey down the Black Feathered path of The Keeper, and she also undergoes some harsh lessons and shudder-worthy trials (not suited for those with fears of spiders or snakes, that’s for sure!).
Overall I really did love this book, as it had everything I was looking for and more, and really redefined the genres of fantasy and dystopian fiction. I know the two genres have been merged before, but this book just had that special un-put-down-able spark I couldn’t resist. Even the most horrific scenes had me wanting to continue reading, as it was easy to form attachments to the characters and also easy to forget that both are merely children. My slight complaint is the abruptness of the ending, as I felt that the book had just started to lead up to something exciting when I found myself at the Epilogue. Needless to say I am anxiously awaiting book two, and am desperate to know whether The Crowman can really be found.
Black Feathers was one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, as it completely pulled me in and I could hardly put it down. The characters of Gordon and Megan are well developed and the plot has some sharp twists and turns – you never know where you’re going to end up next. I can’t wait for the sequel, as I just couldn’t get enough of the dystopian world of the Black Dawn.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
- Black Feathers
- The Book of the Crowman
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