Author: Joseph D’Lacey
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror, Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Wibbly-Wobbly-Timey-Wimey Stuff
Publication Date: March 26, 2013 (Angry Robot – North America)
Source: NetGalley Review Copy
Summary: 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.
☆: 4/5 stars – an excellent new modern fantasy series – I can’t wait for book two!
Review: This is a REALLY interesting one, guys, and definitely another feather in Angry Robot’s hat when it comes to original content. After finishing “Black Feathers”, this first book in the new “Black Dawn” series, I’m definitely hungry for book two, and I want it now. No, seriously, now. If you’re looking for something fresh when it comes to fantasy (in this case, dystopia marrying the apocalypse and urban fantasy), this is definitely a book you simply must try out.
The only major issue I had with this book was pacing. I absolutely loved the idea of the near-future and the far future alternating in telling the Crowman/Black Jack’s story, but for most of this book, the pacing is more than a bit uneven between them – and it isn’t until D’Lacey starts putting both POVs in one chapter (around halfway through, I think?) that I feel like D’Lacey really starts hitting his stride in terms of the rhythms of the storytelling within this story.
However, the sheer creativity (and some of the scenes that made me raise an eyebrow – two words: mud ejaculation) of this book really wins out over its main weakness. Yes, we’ve seen oncoming dystopian societies and apocalypses, and we’ve seen the societies that come after them, but we’ve never seen them narrated as they’re both happening at the same time/in real time. It’s a really ambitious way of looking at a narrative, regardless of whose POV it is, and it’s difficult to execute. The fact that D’Lacey was able to do it in a coherent way at all has me tipping my hat in his direction, because by the end, he definitely had things well in hand.
I do feel like Gordon’s character got a little more thorough character building in compared to Megan’s, but we do have another book coming, and that’s something for D’Lacey to work on. Generally, the characters of the Black Dawn are more developed than those of the Bright Day – but I think that’s partially because the Black Dawn era is pretty much more or less our current time period right now, so there’s more to work with. The Bright Day feels like a big teaser of what’s to come after the Black Dawn, and I feel like that’s how D’Lacey’s playing it here in book one as a way for those of the Bright Day/the Black Feathered Path to look back toward the past, to untangle how the Black Dawn happened just like we as the audience are. Really, it’s a brilliant way to do things, but this also means you have roughly half the book and its characters more than a bit underdeveloped. I think out of all of the Bright Day characters, Mister Keeper is the most developed, and while we watch Megan really start to hit her own stride as the next Keeper, I don’t quite feel it’s equal to that of Gordon, who’s also doing the same thing in the Black Dawn era. Hopefully, since things more or less evened out at the end of this volume, things will be better balanced in the next.
The worldbuilding is interesting because it’s double-worldbuilding. Actually, it might even be triple/quadruple worldbuilding (if we include Gordon and Megan’s internal worldbuilding in that count), and it’s done really well on both ends. Again, we only get kind of a tantalizing glimpse of the Bright Day era, but we get a pretty clear picture of how Megan is developing as Keeper’s apprentice internally. The Black Dawn and Gordon, however, are both very clear (almost startlingly so) and I had no issues really relating to both of those worlds. It’s the Bright Day era as a plot device and as a world, that needed the most development, though for now, it’s good enough to serve as a stark comparison to how the world is falling apart in the Black Dawn era.
Finally, we have social commentary. Yes, I do feel like D’Lacey did get a bit preachy when it came to the environmental apocalypse thing, but it wasn’t so much that it lessened my enjoyment of the book. It was simply there, and as it’s a big plot element, I can see why he was able to slip in a little thought or two about why the environment (and getting along with it) is important. Not optimal in terms of preachiness, but not over the top, either.
Final verdict? This is definitely one of the most creative urban fantasy books I’ve read within the last five years, even with its flaws, and I really can’t wait for book two, whenever it does decide to come out. “Black Feathers” is out now in both North America and the UK from Angry Robot, so definitely be sure to check it out when you get the chance!