Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey is a Dark Fantasy tale of prophecy, history, dystopia, apocalypse, and hope. It is a novel that pushes the boundaries of Fantasy, weaving elements of horror, suspense, dystopia, and even some coming-of-age into something extremely engaging and interesting. A world rich with mythology and mystery alongside remnants of the very familiar pulls you in and carries you along with the characters as they seek what might be their salvation, or their damnation. And they won’t know which it is until they find it.
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.
If I’m a sucker for any element of mythology, it’s giving Satan a bit of a sympathetic play. After all, his only real sin was pride, and honestly, if I were an Angel, and I was shown us miserable humans and told to serve us, I’d probably be upset about that, too. Not to say he was necessarily a good guy, just that in his shoes, I couldn’t really fault him for deciding that maybe God wasn’t thinking particularly clearly. So when I opened the first page of Black Feathers to read “This you must understand: The Crowman is no more evil than you or I. Hear his tale now. Take it to heart.” I knew I was in for an interesting read.
D’Lacey does a really great job of setting up his two storylines. On the one hand, we have a time that looks a great deal like World War II era England, where all kinds of horrible events are unfolding, and on the other, we have a far future, after the apocalypse has ended, and people have largely picked up the pieces and are living reasonable, if much less technologically advanced, lives. His skips back and forth can be a little bit jarring, but you get into the swing of things easily as you start to get to know the characters.
As a plot, I find this sort of technique inherently interesting, and it’s rare to see a post-apocalyptic world that is far enough post- that things are settled. A lot of the technological knowledge is simply lost, for example, and nobody even really knows what happened to get them where they are. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the spate of apocalyptic and dystopian books and movies making the rounds these days that can’t ever stop poking at the problems and making sure the problems with the world are the constant focus of everything all the time, instead of the story of the characters inside the world.
D’Lacey also really nails the Orson Scott Card problem, telling a story about young people that is still very serious and treats them very seriously. This is a pretty dark book, and while it might be a little disquieting to the more sensitive reader, once you get your head around the state of the world in this story, you’ll realise that it is just how things are there. It’s difficult to talk too much about the characters or plot of the story without giving anything away. There’s a very strong element of coming-of-age for both protagonists, and so the journey is too integral to their development to talk about one without the other.
Suffice it to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I’d suggest this book to fans of the sort of semi-urban mythology of Charles De Lint who might be in the mood for a darker take on the style. It also put me in mind of a slightly more mature coming-of-age story in the style of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, but in more of a Fantasy milieu, sort of Ender as written by Chuck Wendig. Great stuff.