Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey

“…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.

Rating: 6.5/10

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5 thoughts on “Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey

  1. Hmmm… Your impression of this book is vastly different than my own. Which is fine, everyone can have a different experience. But I thought I would share mine. Some of your complaints, I honestly didn’t notice (repetition). Some of this may be related to how engaged you are or are not with the story. I was fully engaged with the story from beginning to end.

    You said: “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.”

    For this, the dystopia/breakdown is shown on the level of individuals and the breakdown of society. It shows a populace that has had the resources they have relied so heavily on taken away and the loss of structure, laws and eventually basic human decency is where the true horror comes in. And to me, this is what makes the story frightening, when once civilized people start committing atrocities in order to fill there base needs or desires.

    Another point I really enjoyed about this book is the dueling legends of the Crowman. Even at the end of the book, we still don’t know if he is a savior or the devil. Half the people in the world believe one thing, the other half believe the other. The only agreement is that he is crucial in the Black Dawn.

    Also, I don’t know that I agree that Megan and Gordon are both born “to be amazing” as you put it. We know that they have both been given a large burden to bear, but we don’t know how they will do. Or even what they need to do. They are important, but that does not mean they are necessarily going to be amazing.

    I’ll leave off my comments with a quote from the book that I really think sums up where the horror aspect of this book lies: “Satan walks nowhere on this Earth, nor has he ever, save where he treads within the human heart.”

    • My problem with the dystopia is that D’Lacey didn’t give me any reason to the breakdown of society. He stated that people were the problem, that the world was being taken advantage of, but we don’t pinpoint as to how. Is it by oil, overconsumption of resources, or mere waste via corruption? Maybe a mixture of the three? I can see the second as most predominate, but then, D’Lacey doesn’t tell us. I could laud it as subtle, but it’s an answer that needs to be said. (Unless you’re Jay Posey in Three.)

      But I feel the breakdown is society is shown enough. We never see the city being torn apart, from which is important and I assume will be shown in the second book. However, the closest we get to this is a “campfire” flashback which could be described as telling, seeing as the speaker isn’t a POV. And then, that’s only once in the span of the whole book. I needed a broader collapse, especially with the exact happening.

      The point with humans being the downfall of Earth is thrown out the window when The Great Spirit decides to destroy the planet with earthquakes and such. It could be a nuclear attack, but then why was Gordon so attached to the destruction? Stuff to ponder, and I ambiguity is a hard thing to do. I feel D’Lacey didn’t do as good a job as he could on that account.

      Though, the Crowman was interesting. I feel he’s evil. Your quote and this one give the cynical outlook.

      “The Crowman is no more evil than your or I.”

      And if people are the cause of these atrocities, what’s to say he isn’t evil? Would be a fun twist for the Ward to be the good guys and Gordon’s parents and the future all Satan worshippers.

      Gordon is supposed to be amazing; of that I have no doubt. Megan on the other hand could be simply important, though I find her importance as the first woman Keeper to be amazing in itself, along with chronicling the Crowman’s (Gordon’s?) tale as close as it can be done.

      I see how it is a good book, especially in the first half, I just feel there was more potential that just being ambiguous in certain aspects. But as I said, Three did this and I really liked it. Don’t know.

      (Apologies for the mini-novella. :P)

      • I don’t think the “how” is really relevant to this story. The concept is that humans over-utilized resources in a way that was just not sustainable. You can draw your own conclusions as to how that may have happened, but ultimately, I don’t think it matters because because the story focuses on the backlash of that at an individual level. The real horrors come from the people and the reaction and the downfall of civilized behavior.

        The ambiguity worked well for me. Unfortunately, it’s been over 6 months since I read this, so I likely can’t comment quite as well as I could have it was fresh, but I almost feel like you are looking at the story told and wishing for a different one.

      • I disagree.

        The “how” is always relevant. That’s like saying that we shouldn’t look at the lack of character development in WWZ. (the movie) If you’re going to review or critique a novel, you should look at everything. This is especially true in apocalyptic novels that show the inciting event. I could see it working in 1st person closed, but not in somewhat Omni-3rd. If there was character development to balance this out, I think it could work but there wasn’t. Gordon and Megan felt like 2D characters, while the rest of the cast was *maybe* 1D.

        And I strongly disagree that I was looking for a different story. That, to me, is like saying we shouldn’t look at the faults of a novel just because it’s trying to do one thing. A popcorn read has faults. (Which I’m not labeling this one as.) Should we not look at them, even if they’re light-hearted and fun?

  2. I disagree. Like in Lord of the Flies, does it really matter what caused the plane crash? By your theories, it would, you would want to know every detail of why the kids wound up on the island, but the story is not about the plane crash, it’s about their survival afterwards. I think all we need to know is that their plane crashed setting up the situation for the story. Same here. I think all that matters is that some catastrophic circumstances have caused a breakdown in society, setting up the situation for this story.

    Anyway, I think our opinions and expectations here are different enough, we are not going to agree on much. I can understand some criticisms of the book, but I don’t agree with the ones you have made. Every reader pulls something different from a story, and I think we are on opposite ends of the spectrum here.

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