Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Night's Dawn Trilogy - Book Series Review

The Reality Dysfunction

In AD 2600 the human race is finally beginning to realize its full potential. Hundreds of colonized planets scattered across the galaxy host a multitude of prosperous and wildly diverse cultures. Genetic engineering has pushed evolution far beyond nature's boundaries, defeating disease and producing extraordinary spaceborn creatures. A true golden age is within our grasp.

But now something has gone catastrophically wrong. On a primitive colony planet a renegade criminal's chance encounter with an utterly alien entity unleashes the most primal of all our fears. An extinct race which inhabited the galaxy aeons ago called it "The Reality Dysfunction." It is the nightmare which has prowled beside us since the beginning of history. (Synopsis from Goodreads, slightly edited)


Warning: This is a LONG book and it’s very slow. Parts of it take a little slogging to get through. On the other hand, the author’s world-building is amazing; there are some wonderful ideas for space civilisations as well as what felt like a very realistic look at rough life on a newly colonised world. A lot of this feels like old school science fiction, concerned with mankind’s colonisation and conquering of the stars. Other elements were new – space ghost possession! Why any of this is happening is left mysterious, and the main story itself is compelling (if far too diluted with uninteresting side-characters).

There are a lot of characters (we’re talking epic fantasy levels), but there is one clear main character... Joshua. Oh Joshua. Possibly the most annoying character ever written. He’s like the most obnoxious bits of Han Solo mixed with Captain Kirk mixed with Batman mixed with James Bond. He’s so amazing! He always wins! Everyone loves him! I tolerated him in this book because I was wrapped up in the story and the world-building but I hoped he would grow up and be given some kind of character development in later books. No such luck! He's a total playboy ship-captain fantasy. Mary Sue, your new name is Joshua.

Conclusion: Not space opera at its best, but still quite entertaining and intriguing. Aspects of the world-building were very impressive. I did enjoy it, but there were a lot of aspects that I didn't like so much and some that I even found a bit disturbing. I also wished it was a bit a lot shorter. I was definitely going to pick up the next book though, as I had to know how they were going to deal with the space-ghost possession thing!

The Neutronium Alchemist

Not every fallen angel comes from heaven... The ancient menace has finally escaped from Lalonde, shattering the Confederation's peaceful existence. Those who succumbed to it have acquired godlike powers, but now follow a far from divine gospel as they advance inexorably from world to world.

On planets and asteroids, individuals battle for survival against the strange and brutal forces unleashed upon the universe. Governments teeter on the brink of anarchy, the Conferderation Navy is dangerously over-stretched, and a dark messiah prepares to invoke his own version of the final Night.

 In such desperate times the last thing the galaxy needs is a new and terrifyingly powerful weapon. Yet Dr Alkad Mzu is determined to retrieve the Alchemist - so she can complete her thirty-year vendetta to slay a star. Which means Joshua Calvert has to find Dr. Mzu and bring her back before the alchemist can be reactivated. (Synopsis from Goodreads, slightly edited)


Space ghost possession is bringing back all kinds of crazy characters from our history. Al Capone is one of the major bad guys in this book. Yep, you read that right. Space gangsters! There’s also a bunch of space Satanists, and a really evil woman possessing a hot teenager who’s created some kind of space ghost cult because she’s so pretty that everyone will do what she says. Or something. Most of the villains in this one felt like cartoon characters. The super-weapon plot was by far the most interesting part of the book.

The silly factor is really amped up in this book, and Joshua is practically bursting with new levels of annoying. Two characters who could have been really interesting, Louise and Ione, are spoiled by their complete obsession with Joshua. He’s messing around with Ione, but oh no! He’s got Louise pregnant! What will he do? (If the space ghosts don’t kill everyone first that is). SPOILER WARNING!... Answer from the third book – sleep with Ione but then receive her heartfelt blessing to marry the pure Louise, of course. Because she hasn’t just spent an entire rainforest of pages proving that she doesn’t need him after all (sigh). END SPOILER

Conclusion: This ups the ante from the first book, and hams things up a bit too, and in a way it’s quite fun. The story is still compelling, and bits of it are clever. But you will want to punch absolutely every character in this book. And was it really necessary to include Al Capone as a character? I sort of enjoyed this, but with heavy reservations and intermittent stretches of boredom and eye-rolling.

The Naked God

The Confederation is starting to collapse politically and economically, allowing the 'possessed' to infiltrate more worlds. Quinn Dexter is loose on Earth, destroying the giant arcologies one at a time. As Louise Kavanagh tries to track him down, she manages to acquire some strange and powerful allies whose goal doesn't quite match her own. The campaign to liberate Mortonridge from the possessed degenerates into a horrendous land battle, the kind which hasn't been seen by humankind for six hundred years; then some of the protagonists escape in a very unexpected direction. Joshua Calvert and Syrinx fly their starships on a mission to find the Sleeping God - which an alien race believes holds the key to overthrowing the possessed. (Synopsis from Goodreads)



Finally! It’s time to find out what’s really going on. It’s time to see what ingenious method the characters will come up with for beating the space ghosts. How will Joshua inevitably save the day?

Well folks, it's a deus ex machina. A literal one. A giant metallic floating god in space who hand-waves the problem away. Wonderful. And so what was causing the space ghost issue in the first place? At least that must have a really interesting or perhaps even mind-blowing explanation. We've been waiting for this for three very fat books, after all. Well... it’s because people are too afraid of death to move on properly.

*throws book at wall*

So when the mysterious aliens refused to help the humans figure out the space ghost problem because it’s an issue so deep that each race must figure it out for themselves, changing themselves and everything they know about the universe forever, what they really meant was, ‘shhh, we can’t tell you yet; we still have 2500 pages to read about how awesome Joshua is.’


Conclusion: I read the entire series (about 3800 pages) to find out what would happen and to answer all my questions. The first book was fairly interesting, with many issues, and the second kept up my interest, with even more issues. Both felt like they were setting up for a dramatic, mind-blowing conclusion, which is what kept me reading even through the more frustrating and disturbing parts. The last book made the whole thing a complete waste of time. And from now on all bad characters will be weighed on a scale of 10 to Joshua.

Recommended? Absolutely not.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Bitten - Book Review

Elena Michaels seems like the typically strong and sexy modern woman. She lives with her architect boyfriend, writes for a popular newspaper, and works out at the gym. She's also a werewolf.

Elena has done all she can to assimilate to the human world, but the man whose bite changed her existence forever, and his legacy, continue to haunt her. Thrown into a desperate war for survival that tests her allegiance to a secret clan of werewolves, Elena must recon with who, and what, she is in this passionate, page-turning novel. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

It took me a while to get into Bitten, but when I did I was completely hooked. The first few chapters of the book were quite exposition heavy, with a lot of information about the werewolves, the Pack, Elena’s extended werewolf family and her relationship with each member. This can be quite a lot to take in, and at first I was a little confused by all the new names and exactly who was related to who. It doesn’t take long for the story to get going, however, and when it does it’s very well paced, with a lot of exciting action and the moments of down-time coming right when needed. I loved this book!

At first I wasn't too sure how I felt about Clay, Elena’s love interest, and it took some time for him to grow on me. I thought his past with Elena would be very hard to forgive. In fact, I didn’t want her to forgive him, and was rooting for her each time she gave him a piece of her mind. However, I didn’t necessarily want her to stay with Philip either; it was pretty obvious that they weren’t right for each other, and that Elena could not be herself around him (and not just the werewolf bits – her human self too). These kinds of love triangle stories can often be frustrating, but this one was utterly compelling. I understood the reasons why Elena was in too deep with both men, and I also completely understood why she was pulling away from both of them.

In the end, her story wasn’t so much about choosing between two men as learning to accept herself. She tries to deny her werewolf side so much that she doesn’t see she’s denying who she is. It’s not the werewolf in her that makes her argumentative, opinionated and a little wild; that's just Elena. By trying to deny the wolf in her, she also pushes away the home that she loves. It’s only when Elena realises all this that she finally picks a guy, and even then he has a lot of proving to do before she’ll forgive him. And prove himself he does! He's completely dedicated to her, and he won me round in the end too. I do love it when a book can make me change my mind.

The action in the novel is exciting and the story is incredibly addictive. It’s quite gory and graphic at points, and very sexy at others, giving the whole book a sense of wild freedom that suited the werewolf theme. I really believed that it would be both fun and liberating to run as a wolf, and to live as part of the Pack.

Aspects of the story did bother me a little. Paranormal creatures have a tendency to be rich recluses and these ones were no exception. One successful werewolf I can believe, but a huge corporation owner and his playboy son, a man who makes enough from selling one painting to keep an entire private estate going for a year, a successful magazine journalist, and a respected academic... it just struck me as unlikely that all the werewolves would have such enviable lives. I also didn’t understand why every single mutt (non-Pack werewolf) was a sly or half-rabid human-killer, when every Pack werewolf has no interest in killing humans for pleasure. We’re supposed to believe the latter is simply wolf nature, and that it is the human in a werewolf that will make him a murderer, but because there were equal numbers of mutt werewolves to Pack werewolves, this explanation didn't seem convincing. Mutts seemed to be either wolves who did not want to be part of the pack, or ones who were never given the chance because they were not born in the right place. Why these should necessarily be evil killers was beyond me, and it seemed like a slightly convenient ploy to make sure they were not sympathetic characters (as they might have been otherwise).

Still, these were minor points in an otherwise very entertaining novel. This book is fun, sexy and exciting, with characters you’ll want to punch one minute but adore the next, who you will be completely invested in, and who you cannot stop reading about, chapter after chapter, until it’s way past bedtime. Definitely recommended!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Top Ten Auto-Buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, with a different topic set each week. This week the top ten topic is:

Authors I’d Put on my Auto-Buy List

Well... I don’t really auto-buy anyone. There are certainly authors who I love, and I like to know when they have a new book out, but if the book really doesn’t look like my kind of thing I won’t necessarily buy it just because. So this isn’t so much an auto-buy list as an auto-interest list. I will definitely look out for anything new these authors are putting out, and it won’t take much to persuade me to pick up the book...

There are more than just ten, but these are my top ones.

Diana Wynne Jones – I still haven’t read them all, and these are my absolute top choices to look out for in charity shops and second hand stores, especially as these tend to be great places to find her books. She’s written a lot of books over the years, and I’m always adding to my DWJ shelf.

Ursula Le Guin – I love her books, and there’s always something new to find in them, even when she’s tackling old stories or themes (e.g. Lavinia).

Terry Pratchett – Mainly Discworld, but I’m interested in his separate books too. I still haven’t had a chance to read Nation or The Long Earth, but they’re on my To Read shelf.

Caroline Lawrence – I love her Roman Mysteries and Western Mysteries series, and any new book in these is definitely an auto-read!

China Mieville – I’m still catching up with his books, but on the strength of the ones I’ve read I’ll definitely take a look at future books.

Trudi Canavan – I loved the Black Magician trilogy and the Age of the Five trilogy, and I’ve got the Traitor Spy trilogy ready to read. I’m always interested in future works.

J. K. Rowling – After Harry Potter I’ll always take an interest in what she’s writing. I decided not to buy The Casual Vacancy because it didn’t necessarily seem like my kind of thing, but I’m interested to see what she will write in the future.

Julie Kagawa – I’ve only read the first book in the Iron Fey series so far but I loved it, and I really enjoyed The Immortal Rules too. I’ll be catching up on the Iron Fey books and keeping a look out for whatever is next!

Emma Newman – I love Emma’s short stories as well as the first book in the Split Worlds series. I’ll definitely be looking out for more, and can’t wait for the next book in the series!

George R. R. Martin – Any new books in the Song of Ice and Fire series are going to be auto-buys... I have to know what happens! But I’ll look out for his other books too.

What about you? Who’s on your auto-buy list, or whose books do you always take an interest in? Any authors whose entire collection you’re on a mission to own?

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Showcase Sunday #7

Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine several book haul memes into one post. Welcome to... Stacking the Showcase Sunday Post Shelves with Letterbox Love!

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Stacking the Shelves is hosted at Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post is hosted at Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Letterbox Love is a special British book-haul meme hosted by Lindsey at Narratively Speaking.

New Goodies:

Read Last Week:

Last Week's Posts:

Other Stuff:

Pic: Loozrboy on Flickr
I've discovered a new site that's perfect for adding a bit of adorable to your day...

Does exactly what it sounds like - it posts a cute rabbit picture each day to bring a smile to your face. So now when I'm looking through my Google Reader, between the reviews and the author interviews, out pops a little bunny face to say hi!

The Nebula Awards Short Story Nominees

Short story news this time!

The nominees for The Nebula Awards (from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) have now been announced, and there are some great stories on the list. There are categories for novel, novella, novelette, short story, dramatic presentation, and young adult book.

It's great to see some fantastic short stories on the list, three of which I've read, and the other four I'll be checking out soon! Out of the three I've read, I can particularly recommend 'Immersion' by Aliette de Bodard, which is an extremely moving, thoughtful and well-written science fiction story, and 'Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream' by Maria Dahvana Headley, which is just gorgeous.

If you want to give them a read, they are all available to read for free at the links below:

Immersion, by Aliette de Bodard

Robot, by Helena Bell

Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes, by Tom Crosshill

Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream, by Maria Dahvana Headley

The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species, by Ken Liu

Nanny's Day, by Leah Cypess

Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain, by Cat Rambo

To all the authors, congratulations on the nomination and good luck at the awards!

Friday, 22 February 2013

City of Bones - Book Review

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder - much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing - not even a smear of blood - to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know...

Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare's ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

City of Bones seems to be for Harry Potter what Shannara is for Lord of the Rings. It’s something written with an obvious deep love for the series, its characters and its themes. It’s certainly not a direct copy, and I’d say less derivative than Shannara, but the influence is clear. It’s something that the fans can devour when they’ve finished the original and are desperate for more. It therefore came as no surprise to me to learn that the author, Cassandra Clare, began by writing Harry Potter fan fiction.

This is the kind of story that Harry Potter fans will most likely love, but I think it’s very accessible to anyone, and because there’s no magical school or lessons, the focus is more on the action and the secrets that Clary is trying to unravel. Clary has a similar sense of ‘specialness’ about her that can grate in the same way that Harry’s does, but thankfully she does not appear to be the centre of any prophecies. The magic also has a very different feeling; it’s not wizards learning spells and fighting other wizards, but more paranormal and rooted in old folklore and legends. There are werewolves, vampires, nephilim, faeries, demons and other similar things (all the stories are true, we’re told), and there are Shadowhunters who protect the world from demons and forces of evil. Add to this a ‘dark lord’ character who has gathered a group of supporters to help him rid the world of the creatures he despises, and we basically have Harry Potter meets Buffy.

Being a big fan of both Buffy and Harry Potter, I found this a lot of fun. The book is very easy to enjoy; it reads quickly, there’s a lot of things happening, some great weaving of the magical world and the mundane world, and intriguing relationships between the characters. Clary’s companions are an interesting bunch. Isabelle at first appears to be the bitchy girl who’s jealous of Clary, but thankfully her character is more complicated, and the tension between them is addressed in quite an honest way. This is nice, though it’s a shame it didn’t happen much earlier in the book, as groups of friends in children’s and young adult novels rarely seem to involve two girls who actually get along.

I’m intrigued to see what will happen between Isabelle’s brother Alec, and Magnus, who has the potential to be a great character if he joins the team. Jace is obviously supposed to be the sarcastic jerk who we can’t help but love, but he’s pretty tame compared to others of his type, and I actually found him quite sweet a lot of the time. His tough-guy act is as transparent as glass, to both Clary and the reader. I found Jace and Clary’s relationship believable and endearing, and I’m sceptical that the ‘twist’ at the end is really what it seems, although I would be impressed if Cassandra Clare actually sticks to it. (I say ‘twist’ because I thought it was set up very obviously from quite early on, so it certainly wasn’t a shocker for me).

There isn’t really anything new here, but all the typical elements of paranormal urban fantasy are used well, and the story is exciting, well-paced, and extremely compelling. City of Bones is a fun book with a lot of potential to be a great series. I’m looking forward to catcing up on it and seeing where the series goes!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Top Ten Characters in Fantasy

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a  new top ten topic is set, and this time it's...

Top Ten Characters in X Genre

At first, I thought science fiction might be a fun genre to pick, specifically spacey or far future sci-fi rather than apocalypse or dystopia stuff. Surely there'd be loads of great characters to list!
Pic: Adam Perry (PaladinHerbie)

But then I realised, with a bit of a shock... there aren't very many memorable characters in sci-fi books! Most of the characters I love from science fiction come from TV, movies and games (I suppose I could include tie-in books on my list, in order to include people like Garrus Vakarian, Han Solo, Doctor Who, Star Trek characters and Sarah Connor, but that seems a bit cheatery).

With sci-fi books, the huge concepts and galaxy-spanning visions seem to take over, with characters merely being drawn along with them, recording or observing events. A lot of science fiction characters in books are rather bland.

I also found that all the great characters I could think of were men.You'd think it would be easier to find great female characters in science fiction than in fantasy but it's actually the other way around, at least for me.

Which leads me to a change of plan...

Top Ten (All Female) Characters in Fantasy

This was much easier. My list of top fantasy characters allowing either gender would be about 90% female anyway.

1) Sophie Hatter, in Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Haha, this makes it on to every list doesn't it? Sophie is brilliant though!

2) Daenerys Targaryen, in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin. I know she's a bit of a marmite character - some people love her, some people hate her - but you can put me firmly in the love camp. She's determined, brave, powerful and pro-active, but can also be caring and principled. I like her faults too - she feels real to me, and even though some of her actions are woefully wrong-headed, unlike most of the characters in the series she does always seem to be doing what she believes is right (which is why I also quite like Stannis, despite almost universal hatred for him).

3) Hermione Granger, in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Bookish, smart and brave, and a great friend... who doesn't love Hermione?

4) Tenar, in the Earthsea series by Ursula le Guin. She's not a fighter or a mage; she doesn't have to be superpowered to be an interesting character. I like that she isn't put into the typical love interest role, and that she is shown growing in strength as she ages, and not abandoned as a character when she becomes old.

5) Angua/Cheery/Susan/Tiffany/Nanny Ogg/Granny Weatherwax... I can't possibly just pick one female character from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. They are all awesome!

6) Lady Berwick (Bear), in The Red Knight by K.T. Davies. Not one of the main characters, but completely steals every scene she's in. She's a fun-loving, confident, brave woman who's also an extremely skilled fighter and has an interesting secret. She can also be a complete pain in the ass, and she knows it! Captain Alyda Stenna is another fantastic character in the story, only just beaten to the mention by Bear.

7) Annabeth, in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Daughter of Athene - clever, trustworthy and brave, with a strong sense of morality.

8) Cathy, in Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman. Cathy is such an easily likeable character. I've never been able to sympathise very strongly with characters who 'just want a normal life!' but with Cathy I really did. She convinced me that the mundane world, with its video games, comfy clothes and tea, really might seem like paradise to someone trapped in a Regency-era-like magical world. And she stays true to what she wants the whole way through - Will expects her to fall at his feet after helping her, and I was quite satisfied to see that she didn't.

9) Zinzi, in Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. Zinzi is a great character (and I adore her sloth!). She's smart, passionate, cynical and sassy, and she won't let people push her around if she can help it. She can also be a little rash and self-centred, and lazy in her approach to morality. I liked her flaws as well as her good points and found her a really interesting person to read about.

10) Sonea, in The Black Magician series by Trudi Canavan. In many ways Sonea is a little like a female anti-Harry Potter. She's suddenly flung into a magical school, but everyone dislikes her and believes she has no place there. I thought Sonea coped with her troubles well; she's determined and fiercely loyal, and her heart's always in the right place.

And now I'm going to be on the lookout for more science fiction YA! Not only does YA tend to be more character focussed, it's amazing at giving us great female leads. Can anyone recommend any for me?

What about you? Who are your favourite characters in science fiction and fantasy? :-)

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Showcase Sunday #6

Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine several book haul memes into one post. Welcome to... Stacking the Showcase Sunday Post Shelves with Letterbox Love!

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Stacking the Shelves is hosted at Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post is hosted at Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Letterbox Love is a special British book-haul meme hosted by Lindsey at Narratively Speaking.

New Goodies:

Thanks to Titan Books, Random House UK, Candlemark & Gleam, NetGalley, Dragonfairy Press, and Amy Joy Lutchen for review copies.

Read Last Week:

Last Week's Posts:

Book Review - Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Book Review - Black Feathers, by Joseph D'Lacey

Top Ten Romances in Books

Wicked Valentine's Read-a-thon Wrap Up

Other Stuff:

I received a Grisha Valentine's card! Thanks Fierce Fiction team! :-)

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Black Feathers - Book Review

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. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Black Feathers is the first in a dark fantasy trilogy from horror writer Joseph D’Lacey. It has a very interesting setting, being split between two time periods, neither of which is very common in fantasy, and the combination of the two seemed quite unusual to me. There’s a modern-day pre-apocalyptic Britain. Whereas post-apocalypse is a well-trodden sub-genre, the actual build up and early days of the end times is much less common, perhaps featuring more in the thriller genre than fantasy. This setting in Black Feathers had elements of familiar disaster stories, but the apocalypse here is not sudden and obliterating; it’s much subtler, creeping up on civilisation and killing it slowly. It’s actually quite disturbing in its intensity and realism – more than any other apocalypse in fiction this one felt to me like it really could happen, or is perhaps already happening.

These are the present day sections of the novel, which are actually told in past-tense. The other sections are set in the future in present tense, post apocalypse but far enough ahead that civilisation now lives as normal, albeit in a less numerous and more rural and at-peace-with-the-land state. In this sense, Joseph D’Lacey is telling the story of an apocalypse in a more literal sense of the word – an uncovering and a change, a transition from one state of living to another rather than the end of everything. It’s not just a story of the end of the world as we know it, but its decline – the why, and the effect it has on people – as well as a story of the world that exists beyond it.

I thought both these settings were very interesting, and the inclusion of subtle magic (mainly in the future setting), a well-created sense of folklore, and prophecies of doom all made the world of this book a really memorable one. The author has an amazing ability to evoke a dark, tense and brooding atmosphere, as if there is always someone watching, something waiting, or disaster about to strike. There were points where the tension was so thick it felt like the characters must have trouble breathing. And over everything there’s a strong sense of menace, of some kind of lurking intent.

This feeling ties in well with the mythology of the Crowman in the story. What is this mysterious being – a man, or something else? What does he want, and is he here to save the world or to destroy it? Is he evil or good, or something beyond either? Although the reader sees events through the eyes of two children who are searching for the Crownman, who both have strong reasons to believe that he will help them and the world, it’s still impossible to say whether the Crowman is really something good. The figure is creepy, his folklore is creepy, and events, particularly towards the end of the book, left me questioning whether we are seeing the story of some kind of manipulating devil-creature after all. This was well done, complementing the story and the atmosphere, and leaving a sense of mystery.

The book did have some problems for me, the main one being that there were sections that felt as if they dragged for too long with very little happening. It’s a very slow-moving story, and at points this frustrated me slightly, particularly the more repetitive aspects – Gordon walks for a while and the section ends with him determined to find the Crowman, then in the next section Gordon walks some more and the section ends with him determined to find the Crowman, etc. There were times when all either Megan or Gordon were doing was walking and thinking, which I would have preferred to be cut a bit shorter.

However, having said that, Joseph D’Lacey’s writing style is beautiful and always a joy to read, with the dryer sections lifted by some wonderful imagery. I also found both Megan and Gordon to be very intriguing characters who grow a lot through the course of the novel. The parallels between the two were clever, as if they were mirror images of each other, or driven by fate to repeat the endless cycle of the past. This drew the two storylines together, helping to keep all aspects of the story feeling relevant. I found myself wondering a lot about where each character was heading – at points Gordon seems to be choosing a rather dark path, and there is clearly more to Megan’s story than we have been told.

The book has some strong messages about the way humans interact with their environment and the way we treat the Earth. The apocalypse is not brought on by some kind of freak accident, but through the incessant build-up of human belligerence, selfishness and greed. The author does a great job of showing that it is people who are the true horror – the way they treat both the world and each other – and most of the true danger in the book (particularly to Gordon) comes from other survivors. I’m not sure that returning to such a rural, pre-industrial form of life is necessary to solve our environmental and social issues, but I do think the themes in this story are very important ones, and that they were handled well by the author. This is certainly a relevant book.

In the last stage of the book the pace really speeds up and some major changes begin to happen. An even greater sense of magic and the supernatural comes in, and although it had felt to me like the story was stalling a little by this point, now it really gripped hard and didn’t let go until the end. By now the reader will have a lot of questions and expectations for the next books, and there’s a sense that both Megan’s and Gordon’s stories will move in surprising directions.

With memorable settings, vivid writing and important themes, Black Feathers is an extremely atmospheric and thought-provoking read.

Thank you to Angry Robot and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.