Ever since I had the opportunity to read Meat, the occasion of being able to get a new Joseph D’Lacey story and read it has excited and intrigued me. Meat was shocking, searing, and true in a way very few novels have ever achieved (read my review here), and now that I think about it, perhaps Stephen King had so many words in his mind after reading Meat that ‘rocks’ seemed the best word to encapsulate them all. Why? Well, Joseph does plenty right in ever story he writes, and Black Feathers (incoming from Angry Robot Books) was yet another example of his versatility and understanding of what it means to be human.
The story focuses on two characters, Gordon Black and Megan Maurice, who live in different eras and cultures.
Gordon lives in a world that we, at first, understand; it is our world, with its electricity and cars and skyscrapers and cellphones and internet. But Gordon’s birth is an event that echoes up and outwards, into the future in which Megan lives. Megan is chosen to take the first steps on a path that might lead her to being a Keeper, the history- and memory-keepers of the land and its people. Connecting them is a force (perhaps of good, perhaps of evil) called The Crowman, and in the world of the Bright Day (an era of peace after the terrible, destroying events of the Black Dawn), Megan feels the call to find The Crowman. As does Gordon. How they do this is the story of Black Feathers.
From the get-go Joseph layered the story in mystery – we are introduced to Gordon’s father, sisters and mother, who each have their own role to play in Gordon’s story; we witness the strange circumstances of his birth (leading to his father’s reactions and, much later, an important event in Megan’s life), and we begin to understand that Gordon’s world, our world, is changing. Perhaps not for the better.
As Gordon grows and matures he keeps a diary (my eyes only), in which he records thoughts that most people, including his family, might think evidence of insanity, thoughts and recollections and memories of dreams, of hearing a voice not his own in his mind, of his peculiar almost-need to collect corvid feathers, of his burgeoning fear and bewilderment at the events beginning to overtake the world (the fall of everything, to be replaced –should they succeed- by a group bent on dominating everyone and everything), of constantly wondering whether he is insane… He’s just a young boy, not yet a teenager, and he has to deal with all of this. Chapter after chapter Gordon grew, and succeeded, and failed – he is, to my mind, the kind of character that many, many readers will be able to identify with. He has crippling moments of doubt, surges of almost overwhelming exhaustion and sadness; like many people, he knows that to ask questions is to be hurt, yet he knows that without knowledge or pain, nothing can ever be learned or understood. Indeed, he had to face more in his fourteen, fifteen years than most people face in the entire span of their lives. As a character he was mesmerizing and a joy to discover, written with a depth of emotion and empathy by Joseph that helped me to truly inhabit Gordon’s ‘skin’.
Megan was also beautifully written – her world is changed irrevocably on a day that she goes into a forest near her home, and from that moment on hers is a journey of discovery and self. Through her we discover how drastically life has changed since the Black Dawn and how those changes affected humanity and everything we did and thought we stood for and believed in. Megan is constantly curious and possessed of a beautiful strength, the kind of character that slips quietly in and watches you reading from across the room. Like Gordon, though, she is forced into a world she’s only heard whispers about and doesn’t understand at all, and her journey to knowledge lost nothing even as Joseph used her to explain more about the world as it was after the Black Dawn. The balance between world-building and characterization in this novel –especially as regards Megan- was expertly handled, with neither suffering at the other’s expense. Instead, both seemed to add to the other – which was very important, since the people and the land (both during the Black Dawn and the Bright Day) are inextricably linked.
As can be expected from Joseph’s work, there are moments of horror, moments of wide-eyed disbelief, moments of laughter and tears and silence pregnant with either peace or rage. He managed to handle everything beautifully and with respect, making both his characters and the world they inhabit come alive. One of Joseph’s undeniable strengths as a storyteller is the ability to remember and use the small things – those moments that have nothing to do with advancing the plot and yet have everything to do with advancing the plot, because without those small moments the world and the characters wouldn’t ring true.
But be warned – there are some scenes that may make you flinch, despite the knowledge that these aren’t real people or real situations, and I guess that’s the mark of a truly good storyteller: making you feel. Black Feathers is a post-apocalyptic urban-fantasy journey-of-discovery horror and much more that doesn’t fall into a category of any kind. I loved this book and I’m so glad that it’s the first of two – kudos to Angry Robot for sending me Joseph D’Lacey’s best story to date, and massive thanks to Joseph for writing it. I’m definitely coming back for more!
9 / 10
To pre-order your copies of Black Feathers, click here for Amazon US (26 March), here for Amazon UK (4 April), and here for South Africa. Please do check out Joseph’s site here, which will give you links and info for his other novels, collections and novellas.
Huge thanks to Darren Turpin at Angry Robot for posting this ARC all the way to South Africa! Head over to Angry Robot Books and check out their extensive and brilliant catalogue – if you don’t find something there to interest you, you’re probably a rock. Seriously. ;-)
Until next time,