Review: Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey

Black Feathers
Joseph D'Lacey

Angry Robot
I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.
Released March 26, 2013 
393 pages
Horror / Apocalypse / Fantasy

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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.

Black Feathers was difficult for me to get through and took far longer than it should have for me to read. It’s not because it’s a bad book, but rather it’s so vividly written and just so happens to hit some of my more sensitive anxiety buttons that I found myself suddenly staring at a page until the words blurred to nonsense and I found I was unable to breath. Luckily about a third of the way through, the book became a little less about environmental collapse and the complete devolution of human society and more about the characters’ individual journeys that I was able to relax a little and enjoy the journey.

The first in Black Dawn series follows two children as they fight their way through intense personal journeys connected through a vast stretch of time. Gordon is a modern day child, who is just a little sensitive, a little too connected to nature and a little too lost in the real world to know where to begin as the world begins to crumble around his ears. The rising oppressive regime is searching him down, believing him to have a connection to the legendary Crowman, who is widely predicted to bring about the end of humanity. Fourteen-year-old Gordon has to run for his life, coming across the evil that people often turn to during desperate times as he tries to honor his family while staying alive.

An indeterminate number of generations later, Megan lives with her Apa and Amu in the same place that Gordon did, just in a drastically changed world where everyone lives in huts and time has seemed to warp to country colonial times. The Crowman myth has lived on and Megan comes across the illustrious folk hero / nightmare incarnate, which leads her on a mystical journal with Mr. Keeper, part historian, part medicine man. Megan’s journeys in the “night country” show her the life story of Gordon as she goes along with his journey in search of the Crowman.

By having the environmental collapse that starts D’Lacey’s apocalypse set in modern day, it all felt very real and frightening as I went from reading about horrible storms and sudden snowstorms only to turn on the television and see those horrible storms tearing through towns and spring snowstorms confusing people in real life. I’m a bit of a pessimist, so having D’Lancey use the late months of 2013 and 2014 as the timeline for his society’s decline really freaked me out. This could only work if his realty was horrible enough and yet still completely realistic, which it was and I still get the heebie jeebies thinking about those disasters going on around Gordon as he runs for his life.

Towards the middle, both storylines drag a little as Gordon finds a sense of safety with a father and daughter who have moved their lives into the forest. This will, of course,  be cruelly, vividly and horrifically ripped from his fingers, so I feel kind of bad to say that this time of what could be considered contentment in the changing world was kind of boring. Meanwhile Megan is drinking tea, tromping through forests and having inconclusive conversations with Mr. Keeper that seem to go around in circles. It’s not until she and Mr. Keeper travel to a nearby village that the action in her story really begins.

Black Feathers ends up feeling a bit like the second book in a trilogy in a way. It has all the background and world building needed in a first book in the first half, but the second half just feels like moving pieces around on a chess board to get the characters where they need to be for future adventure. There are some interesting developments such as Gordon becoming one with the world in a seriously disturbing chain of events and the resulting changes he goes through or Megan going on a quest for a mystical ancient artifact where the Crowman she has been taught not to truly fear becomes her enemy and attempts to hunt her down with snakes and spiders.

The Black Dawn series is a captivating take on environmental collapse with the addition of mystical and fantasy elements. Telling it through the eyes of young teens allows for more exposition and a pair of unreliable narrators adds mystery to what is real. As they both grow up faster than their contemporaries, the darkness circles around them and things can verge into the philosophical. While I don’t know if I will move forward with the series, it’s definitely different from all the dystopian fiction that has become popular lately. D’Lacey melds an apocalypse with shadow horrors all within a world where nothing seems quite real while at the same time nothing can be written off as imaginary.


I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Thank you, Angry Robot.