“…without the teller, there can be no tale.”
I find that whenever hype starts to surround a book, I find that my inner editor becomes more critical, especially when the words tacked on are “Most Underrated Novel of 2013.” I must disagree with that title. Black Feathers begins strong enough; it’s just the end you have to watch out for.
As said, it begins decently, a foreboding poem opening straight into that horror of our protagonist’s birth. From there we have the window randomly opening to allow a chill and caw escape through the room all dramatic like. And then we jump to the second character, Megan.
They’re born to become amazing, and if that’s not drilled into your head, then I don’t know what is. Yes, there’s a prophecy center stage, not subtly entered into the narrative, but thrown about at will. And, I would say, the ambiguity of it all is a strength of D’Lacey’s novel. The underlying horror tone, creeping in through the bottom, is another win.
Besides the reactive characters and supposedly important people, there’s little substance to the two of Gordon and Megan. He’s a tragic figure while she’s the naïve learner of his tale. Unfortunately, there’s little left for their arc. I saw no quirks, no reasoning to their actions other than the offhand tragedy or “destiny.”
On top of that, we’re constantly told that they’re important people. Did I mention that? Or was it misplaced in the jungle of foliage fluff.
As expected in any hippy diatribe, D’Lacey manages to give every possible description of the Earth, the forests, and the destroyed land as best he can. And I’ll give it to him; the prose flows smoothly, giving the reader a quick pace with delightful insights on the wildlife (of which crows, ravens, and magpies are evidently the only bird around) and Plantae.
But the urban life, populated with people and their evil wickedness, was a bit of a letdown. We see little of a dystopia. The biggest point of this criticism is with the collapse of the world we stumble upon near the end of the book. Gordon doesn’t witness it; there’s no build-up to the destruction either. It just happens out of nowhere, and even then, the kid hides while the world explodes. It really was lackluster.
Oh, but when he steps out, the Weird attacks. Or better yet, the sensual descriptions return.
I don’t know what the point of reading about adolescent bodily fluids helped to the narrative, nor do I enjoy reading that “the wind caressed his cheek.” It comes off strange and creepy.
Another minus is the repetition, if I didn’t note that beforehand. (Okay, the point might be a little strong now.) Megan and Gordon are important; the Earth is sacred; Gordon’s story is sad; the world is a bad place; people are bad. If you didn’t catch that, don’t worry. D’Lacey has a whole book dedicated to that. 500 pages, if I may add.
This could’ve done with an edit. He could’ve cut out the majority of the fluff, the condescending repetition. If it had furthered a philosophical statement, I could’ve dealt with it, but it doesn’t and I couldn’t.
See, that’s where my major problem stems from. D’Lacey doesn’t go far enough with is political points. This is eco-horror, and I see it to an extent. But there was little detail of the cities, of the worldwide collapse. There were even fewer ideas shown on the enemy, the Ward. If we had been dangled a piece of meat giving away the gray side of these gray coats, I think the story would’ve been fleshed out a ton more and thus been much better.
Alas, we only have Gordon’s perspective of the events, and even then there is no good action as a whole, no misguided evil. They are bad for the sake of antagonism, for getting a point across to the reader that corporation and fascism (while funnily enough socialism is frowned upon yet near the same) are bad. They are wrong. We must exist solely with the environment. And while that’s a good speech to be made, it’s muddled and short-sighted, almost narrow-minded in its approach. It gives no point to the other side.
But, while the book is too short, it’s also too long. I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this novel, found it dark, disturbing, and a generally fun read. Only problem is it begins to lose steam near the end, mainly because nothing happens.
D’Lacey has a syndrome that I noticed in Cassandra Clare. (Not to compare the two in any other way besides this.) He can drag out a scene for what it’s worth. Not bad in small doses, it becomes tiresome in a hefty book such as this. For instance, in the first 100 pages, barely anything exciting happens, then it takes 4 pages to get through a tunnel, then 8 pages to get to a city, and that’s only in that chapter. There’s been tiny build-up in those environments beforehand, but barely any action.
And it can sometimes be sentimental, this being a tragic story.
The last 100 pages could’ve been cut without any problem. D’Lacey could’ve ended on a different point than try and stuff character depth in that didn’t happen. Or symbolism in the guise of the Crowman. But more important than that is the complete deus ex machine gifts that appear out of nowhere, one a prize for destiny, the other a MacGuffin. So yes, the ending was enough of a drag that I dropped an entire rating.
If that’s enough to sway you away from this novel, then I must reiterate one thing: D’Lacey can write violence like nobody’s business. It’s the most brutal and heartfelt stuff to grace my mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if nightmares popped up in the near future. While few and far apart, the action is heavy hitting, a contrast to the political messages. If the author could’ve interjected the amounted of concise brilliance into his ecological story that he did with his political traveling, then I have no doubt this would’ve been the best novel of 2013. There is no contest. Even when I knew what was about to happen, my mouth didn’t tighten any. It fell to the floor.
I cannot say it enough; this is the strongest violence I have ever read.
It just runs into the paradox of going too far, yet not going far enough. It’s wrought with symbolism and ambiguous mythology, and I’m afraid it doesn’t quite make the distance. If the second novel takes all of the first’s strengths and somehow trims the content down to size while maintaining some density, I could see The Book of the Crowman as one to watch out for.