Black Feathers: The Black Dawn, Volume One by Joseph D’Lacey – review

BlackFeathersBlack Feathers: The Black Dawn, Volume One
by Joseph D’Lacey
Published by Angry Robot Books
UK ISBN – 978-0-85766-345-0
US ISBN – 978-0-85766-344-3

Black Feathers is the first volume in a new horror series by Joseph D’Lacey. The story follows two main threads simultaneously. We have young Gordon Black, a thirteen year old boy living in a slightly alternate version of our own modern day. In Gordon’s England, the world is sinking into economic collapse and being ravaged by various naturally destructive phenomena like solar flares and earthquakes. The land is ruled with an iron fist by The Ward, a combination of brutally right wing political party and zealous corporate conglomerate, driven by a greed for money and power. The people of most countries have voted The Ward into control globally after the successful lobbying of the party to convince the populace that only The Ward can protect the people against the swift descent into Armageddon facing them all.

Concurrent with this story is the tale of Megan Maurice, a young girl living far in the future, in a green and pleasant post-apocalyptic land where people have returned to living with the Earth, putting back as much as they take out and revering the Great Spirit and The Earth Mother. Megan is approached by Mr Keeper, a very revered holy man among the people, and he tells her that it is her destiny to walk the Black Feathered Path. This is a path of Shamanic learning, where she puts herself in the path of the stories of the Crowman, for someone must keep the tales alive in order to never lose the knowledge.

By now I’m sure you’re getting the feel for where this book is going. Gordon’s family are abducted by The Ward, but Gordon escapes and goes on the run. He is told he must find The Crowman, a terrifying creature of modern legend who some say is pure evil and others say is a force for good. As Gordon runs, the world descends quickly into its destructive cycle as the Earth Mother shakes off the scourge of humanity and The Ward are desperately hunting Gordon, as he is prophesied to usher in the end times, which is something they can’t allow if they are to maintain their grip on power and profit.

It should be quite clear by now that this is a book with a very clear and unashamed agenda. D’Lacey has an affinity for the Native American mythology of the Earth and it manifests throughout this narrative. The thing is, D’Lacey is a brilliant writer and while the message is something of a sledgehammer throughout, the story, the characterisation and the sheer beauty of the prose make that okay. This is an excellent story, very well told.

The juxtaposition of Megan’s life with Gordon’s is adroitly handled, giving the reader a huge and encompassing view of everything while maintaining a personal and powerful focus on these two very difficult journeys.

There’s an almost YA feel to the book at times, as both the key protagonists are young teenagers. But this is most definitely not a YA book, as the horror of Gordon’s world is laid bare time and again. I was pleased that D’Lacey didn’t shy away from the depravity in the hearts of humanity when it’s pushed to the edge. The threat to Gordon as he seeks is constant and very real, and The Ward is only one of many enemies on his quest.

Megan’s journey is one of discovery, a strange mix of vision quest and genuine, physical seeking. Sometimes the two are blurred together and D’Lacey does a great job of letting us in on enough of the story while still keeping Megan’s discoveries fresh and engrossing.

The anti-corporate, love-the-Earth message is a little heavy-handed at times, particularly at the very end of the book. By then it was at a point where it really didn’t need reinforcing and the final pages could have been much tighter without that repetition. But that’s a small complaint. The end, however, is far from the end. There’s no real Book One resolution here – we are most definitely only at a stopping point in a far longer narrative. Certain things come to a head – things the reader has been sure of for most of the book, only unsure how they will manifest, but that is the nature of this kind of story.

The Crowman mythology here is excellent, especially for all fans of corvids. The crows, ravens, rooks, magpies and others play central roles in the growth of Gordon as he runs and the weaving together of modern and ancient myth is brilliantly developed. The Crowman himself is a wonderful invention.

You need to go into this book knowing that its message is central to its existence. If you accept that, you will enjoy a superbly written dark fantasy with some truly original ideas and a very clever culture-crossing hero’s journey. I’ll certainly be looking out for further volumes to see how D’Lacey develops this story and where it might ultimately lead.