Book Review: Black Feathers – by Joseph D’Lacey

The Black Dawn Book #1

Horror, Fantasy, Dystopian

Angry Robot; March 26, 2013

494 pages

2.7 / 5 ✪

I first read Black Feathers in 2014 and really enjoyed it. Just goes to show what difference five years can make. The second time I got through it, I was put off by its inconsistency, an unsatisfying conclusion and a “look but don’t touch” world. D’Lacey manages to tell an interesting, entertaining story populated by real, human characters, in a world that (initially) can draw many parallels to our own.

The characters themselves are D’Lacey’s greatest achievement. Gordon Black is our pre-apocalypse narrator. Crows herald his arrival into the world, following his story from then on. The tale follows him from birth, early on casting him as the herald of the coming doom. His is very much a coming of age tale, as Gordon is just a regular boy. Dark hair, dark eyes, and crows follow him everywhere—but normal just the same. D’Lacey really manages to portray him as a flesh and blood kid, someone very real and human. This is a triumph for any author: creating a relatable, mortal lead.

Megan, the post-apocalypse DJ, is… inconsistent. When I went to choose a paragraph to describe her, “inconsistent” was as far as I got. Hers’ is as well billed as a coming of age tale. She is as well chosen by the Crowman. But, rather than to live his tale like Gordon, she is tasked with telling it.

Megan isn’t a believable POV. What I mean is… okay: it’s a coming of age story for her. When the reader is first introduced to her, Megan is just a kid. No puberty, no experience with the world, no Crowman. And she acts like any other kid. Until her second chapter. She runs across the Crowman before the first, in the first we find her fleeing from him. In the second, she begins her tale about seeing him. And she completely departs from her background (as just any other kid) thus far. Only to fall back into it after the story ends. I understand that D’Lacey is probably trying to set the mood here. But she’s just a kid. The words she uses, the pauses, the explanations, her state—they all change. They’re too advanced, too professional, too… scripted. D’Lacey flip-flops on her enough, going between her being just a kid, maturing into a young woman; to a mature, well-worded and serene woman—sometimes even chapter to chapter.

The looming apocalypse seems very plausible at first. A world wracked by natural disasters, solar flares, a tanking economy, an outbreak of war and strife. One full of shades of grey. When the Crowman is entered into it, the plausibility is muddied somewhat. Later, when he/it takes center stage, I felt a real disconnect between the story I was reading, and the one carries on from there.

It was a very dark tale. But it tried to be something more, even should’ve been something more. D’Lacey makes a play for a realistic apocalypse. Something that could very well happen today. Black Feathers is almost… could’ve been this, maybe. But loses itself shortly after inception. Gordon Black’s story (the story of the Crowman) gets distracted, and becomes the story of the Ward.

The Ward is the organization running Britain. Through the beginning of the tale, they become more and more prevalent in the UK, gaining political strength and support. They represent control and stability—or try, at least. A quasi-communist, nationalism, isolationist state. Eventually, they go after Gordon, trying to prevent him from reaching his destiny. And in doing so, any realism the story might have cultivated goeth out yon window. I mean, the reasoning behind this—the prophecy, or whatever—isn’t well explained. There are bits and pieces but. It doesn’t feel realistic. Or like a good scifi story. By attempting to toe the line between these two, any chance at being either is gone.

It’s not that Black Feathers isn’t a good read. It presents an adequate premise which it carries out reasonably well. But slowed down by inconsistent characters and a story that can’t decide what it is, D’Lacey’s possible masterwork becomes just another book, though an interesting one. Any lack of conclusive ending left a bad taste in my mouth, even through beginning the second one (note: I never finished #2, for a number of reasons) Worth a read, though. Maybe get it from the library, or on sale.