Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey

Black Feathers

It would be hard for me to overstate how amazing I think this book is. It terrified me, made me angry, made me sad, transported me somewhere new and yet strangely familiar, and hasn’t left my head yet. It has woven a spell on me, this love song to the land. It combines mythology, folktale, shamanism, coming of age and apocalyptic themes to create something very special.

The story is told through two narratives, separated by generations but connected by one boy. This boy was born as the world was falling apart; on his shoulders fell the heaviest burden. He was destined to find the Crowman and bring his story to the world. The Crowman was revered and feared in equal measure, but in this mythical being lay the last hope of humanity. Gordon Black was born amongst a freak snowstorm, flapping black wings and a primal scream – his specialness was clearly marked but he grows up largely unaware of the gifts and offerings people leave on the doorstep of his ordinary home. It is not until the world economy collapses and governments fracture, leaving room for fanatics and totalitarian regimes that Gordon gets any glimpse of his own path. In England The Ward are gaining power, a monstrous regime seeking absolute control, and are set on rooting out anyone with links to the Crowman. Gordon’s family are under suspicion, and the boy himself is in terrible danger.

Years later a young girl is marked out as special too. Megan is visited by the Crowman in the woods, she has been selected as a Keeper, but it is a difficult journey to make, learning his history and ways. The wise man, Mr Keeper, knows there is a prophecy making Megan even more important that she realises. Gordon’s tale is told partly by him and partly by Megan, as he travels across the country seeking the Crowman. Both suffer fear and pain, but both become ever stronger as they fulfill their destinies.

There is a duality at play in Black Feathers that I found constantly appealing. The Crowman is also Black Jack, the scary trickster. He is neither good nor evil, but both. He gives strength but also causes weakness. Gordon and Megan, boy and girl, are both powerless and powerful. As children they have little influence in the world, yet both are marked out as special, capable of accessing inner resources adults rightly fear. There are also these beautiful liminal spaces the pair inhabit. They occupy a position between childhood and adulthood, full of potency and potential. They take to the forests, living away from other people. They spend time somewhere between waking and dreaming, gaining access to hidden knowledge. It is their closeness to the land that holds out hope for humanity.

What frightened me is the near-truth of much of the collapse of society, and the powerlessness Gordon feels. It is too easy to imagine a world thrown into panic once someone has painted it for you as D’Lacey does. The panic, hoarding, stealing and the rise of a faction promising to put it all right using strong arm tactics send shivers right through me. Gordon’s desolation on having to face an unimaginable future alone tapped into some serious childhood fears. I thought it was beautifully written; at times I forgot I was reading a story, I was living it.

I love lots of books, for lots of different reasons. Every book I talk about on my blog is here because I think it is good enough to recommend. Sometimes though a book captures your imagination in a way that it takes residence in your brain, and the more you think about it, the more special it becomes. That’s Black Feathers.

I read Black Feathers on a NetGalley eARC, courtesy of Angry Robot, for which I am very grateful. It is available now in Paperback, and I urge you all to grab a copy as soon as possible. It is the first of two parts of The Black Dawn.

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