Audiobook Review: Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey

23 07 2013

Black Feather (The Black Dawn, Bk. 1) by Joseph D’Lacey

Read by Simon Vance

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 23 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: I found Black Feathers to be one of the most unique and well executed Apocalyptic Dark Fantasies I have read in a while. D’Lacey manages to create both compelling characters and fascinating worlds from two succinctly different times that manages to play off and influence each other in fascinating ways.

Grade: B+

I have been trying to figure out recently why I find horror books much scarier than movies. I recently gave in and watched the new Evil Dead movie, and I sat through and hour and a half of boring gore, cardboard performances, and gross-out scenes, all of which I found a bit disturbing but never really scary. Then I listen to a book where the scariest image is that of a bird, and, well, I’m a bit freaked out. Yet, let’s face it…. birds are scary. Sure, I’d rather meet a bird in a dark alley that demon possessed blood streaked women with a nail gun, but in a more conceptual ways, birds are scary, particularly dark feathered carrion eaters. First of all, birds fly. That seems like a simple thing, but I can’t think of any trait that less human than the ability to fly. In fact, I am easily creeped out by all flying things. They can operate in more dimensions than us. We can’t hide from them up or down or side to side. They can land on us, peck out our eyes, drop coconuts on our heads, then swoop away into the great beyond. It’s sort of freaky. There is a sort of brazenness to birds, a cocky assurance that while we may have opposable thumbs and the ability to reason, we can’t fly, and those avian bastards just know it pisses us off. The ability to fly gives them an ethereal quality, like that of spirits or souls, the ability to reach into the heavens and become closer to god. Books excel at taking these images, touching the long distant genetic memories, and allowing us to fill in the rest. Movies, well they show us an axe wielding maniac, and we know that soon blood will flow. Yet, once the blade cuts into out skull, there isn’t really much to fear anymore. With birds, we never truly know what those bastards are up to.

In a world of environmental breakdown a new group has arisen, immune form the old laws, looking to capitalize on the breakdown of society. Yet, they fear one thing, a prophecy of a child, stripped of everything he holds dear, sent to find the mysterious figure of legend called The Crowman. Generations later, one girl is given the opportunity to record this boy’s story, yet, her visions allow her to become more than simply a chronicler, but a tangible influence on the outcome of his journey. Joseph D’Lacey’s Black Feathers is an atmospheric dark fantasy that intertwines a gripping post apocalyptic world, with a malleable future that may a bleak vision of out destiny, or a new time where humanity finally learns to live with nature. It’s this very uncertainty that makes this novel more than your typical post apocalyptic tale. D’Lacey has creates two time streams that have become dependent on each other, where the revelations on one may have tangible affects on the other. To do this, he creates two characters, both very different sides to the same coin, the naive boy, Gordon, who is sent on a mysterious mission, and Megan, a young farm girl who is chosen by a dark force to tell his tale.  It’s a fascinating exercise in both world building and character development. D’Lacey has created two very recognizable characters, young people on a quest, yet plays off their stories in new a fascinating way. It’s easy to become instantly comfortable with these characters and this world, without understanding its true nature. D’Lacey forces you to challenge your ideas of the traditional evil forces in fantasy, and accept that one man’s devil may be another man’s savior. Yet, it’s not all an exercise in conceptual writing. D’Lacey creates a very plausible, and completing post apocalyptic world, as well as a more traditional regressed fantasy setting. This was one of these times where plot and concept were both equally engaging. Yet, a few little things bothered me. There is an overall message that I am finding more and more in post apocalyptic fiction, that the mass death of a large percentage of humanity will actually be a good thing. That a society free of technology, and more in touch with nature, is inherently a better one, and if it takes a mass apocalypse, than that is the price we need to pay to save earth. In many ways, in Black Feathers, the earth is the true protagonist, and the evil petulance destroying it is mankind. I understand, and even partly agree with the sentiment, but I also find it troubling.  My only other problem with the book it the abruptness of the ending. While Black Feathers is fascinating, it is not truly a complete tale, and doesn’t work well as a standalone. For those who find this frustrating, I would recommend waiting to more editions to the series are available. Yet, despite these concerns, I found Black Feathers to be one of the most unique and well executed Apocalyptic Dark Fantasies I have read in a while. D’Lacey manages to create both compelling characters, and fascinating worlds from two succinctly different times that manages to play off and influence each other in fascinating ways.

I may joke a bit about the almost shamanistic loyalty of many of Simon Vance’s fans, but in truth, there is a very good reason why so many people love his narration. The man is a true storyteller. Black Feathers is a great example of how talented Vance is at his craft. He doesn’t need to jump through any vocal hoolahoops, in fact, he barely sounds like he’s breaking a sweat, yet he manages to capture just the right tone in his reading. Vance creates just the right feel for Black Feathers. He creates a mood that is at times dark and mysterious, yet with an excited feeling of adventure. It’s like the soothing tone of your grandfather right before he tells you a scary story. His smoothness only makes the imagery and poetry of D’Lacey’s writing all the more affective. His characterizations come off as natural, from the sneering hunters, to the young boy and girl finally coming into their own through dark circumstances. It all just works well together, making Black Feathers a truly disturbing yet fascinating listen.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing a copy of this title for review.