Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey
It is the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse, the earth wracked and dying.
It is the Bright Day, a time long generations hence, when a peace has descended across the world.
In each era, a child shall be chosen. Their task is to find a dark messiah known only as the Crowman. But is he our saviour –or the final incarnation of evil?
Black Feathers, the latest novel from Joseph D’Lacey, is a story in two halves. The narrative alternates between a couple of separate, but interconnected journeys.
The first strand is the story of Gordon Black, a young boy born into the present day just as the world we know is beginning to come apart at the seams. The evil that Gordon faces off against appears in the form of a group known only as The Ward. They have infiltrated every level of government and big business in an effort to control what precious few resources remain. The Ward’s sole purpose? To locate and destroy the individual known as The Crowman. I was reminded a little of Norsefire, the near faceless fascist villains that feature heavily in Alan Moore’s masterpiece V for Vendetta. You see, D’Lacey is being a bit sneaky here. He isn’t just telling us a story, he’s also subtly pointing out that we have to be wary when it comes to giving governments and politicians all the power.
The second element of the novel introduces Megan Maurice. Her half of the story has a more fantastical feeling about it. She lives in a version of the future where life is far simpler than what we are used to. People farm the land and concern themselves with the basics of existence. After a chance meeting in the local woods, Megan is plagued by visions of times long past. In an effort to understand what these nightmares mean, she leaves her home and family and becomes the apprentice to a local wise man.
Megan’s mentor on her journey is the sage and, in turns, sublime Mr Keeper. More than a little odd, he seems to exist partially in the real world and partially in a state that’s reminiscent to aboriginal dreamtime. Keeper has a habit of being just a little bit cryptic but also offers some wonderfully dry anecdotes. These comedic little gems feel like the icing on the cake as his relationship with Megan unfolds and he slowly drip feeds her details of the cataclysm that befell humanity in ages past.
…never under estimate the usefulness of a good hat.
See I told you, sage advice.
The other standout character is the Crowman himself. He doesn’t appear often but his presence is felt in every single scene. The decisions that our two leads make, the changes that are effecting both their worlds, essentially everything that Gordon and Megan do is leading them both toward him. There is an air of ambiguity that surrounds this truly enigmatic figure. This mystery is never fully addressed allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. Is the Crowman a messiah or maniac? The bringer of ultimate salvation or ultimate destruction? I’d imagine you could provoke some vigorous debate just by asking readers to give their opinions of this character alone, never mind the book as a whole.
There is a purposeful sense of duality existing between the worlds of Gordon and Megan. D’Lacey is showing us two sides of the same coin. Gordon lives at a time when the world we know is all but over, while Megan has grown up at the beginning of something entirely new. This is a novel of endings and beginnings, of the old and the new. The themes explored here are thought provoking stuff. Do the decisions that we make have the power to transform not only ourselves but the world in which we live?
I’ve already mentioned parallels to the work of Alan Moore but I could just as easily make similar comparisons to the dark fantasies of Stephen King. The Stand would be the obvious apocalyptic choice but I think that would do the writing on display here a dis-service. Jospeh D’Lacey has crafted something that is uniquely his own. His particular brand of writing has been described in the past as eco-horror, but I don’t think Black Feathers quite fits into that category. Undeniably dark and, at times, violent but also filled with a sense of hope we may need to come up for a new label in this case. Eco-fantasy anyone?
Though the scope of this novel covers multiple time periods and the events effect the entire planet there is something particularly intimate about proceedings. There are only a handful of characters and this just feels right. In the past I’ve always said that I want my apocalyptic fiction to be huge and all encompassing. Black Feathers could well be the exception to this rule. In this rare instance I found that I enjoyed the close confines of the story. Using all his writerly skill D’Lacey make us care about the characters that we meet. I found it incredibly easy to be drawn into this world.
Black Feathers is volume one of The Black Dawn duology. Weighing in at just a shade over four hundred pages, D’Lacey has done more than enough to ensure I’ll be back for part two. Don’t be fooled, this isn’t just an engrossing read, this is dark fantasy with a conscience. I can assure you that this is the sort of writing that will make you think. Do yourself a favour and check it out.
Black Feathers is published by Angry Robot and is available from 4th April.