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Book Review: The Book of the Crowman by Joseph D’Lacey

“The Book of the Crowman’s power as a novel is such that you won’t be able to disregard it.”

TheBookOfTheCrowman-144dpiWhile this review will do its level best to avoid spoilers, there’s no way of discussing the events of Joseph D’Lacey’s The Book of the Crowman without referring to Black Feathers, the first book of The Black Dawn, to which this is the direct sequel. Indeed, The Black Dawn is basically one massive novel, split into two volumes. All of which is basically another way of saying that if you haven’t read Black Feathers yet, then a) why the hell not? and b) you shouldn’t be reading this. So go away, read Black Feathers, and then come back here.

Ah, there you are. Good, wasn’t it? Okay, then, here we go:

Like Black Feathers, The Book Of The Crowman contains two interwoven storylines: Gordon Black, in a near-future Britain devastated by ecological disaster as the planet turns against humankind, seeks the mysterious Crowman to aid in the fight against the totalitarian corpocracy of the Ward. As he searches, he’s hunted by his enemies, the Wardsmen Pike and Skelton. Meanwhile, centuries later, Megan Maurice continues her initiation into the priesthood, the Keepers, who help ensure the balance between Man and Nature is maintained. Through visions and journeying through the mystical weave, she must tell Gordon’s story. Both of their efforts are vital if humanity is to survive.

The Book of the Crowman is in many ways almost a religious novel. There are parallels with Stephen King’s The Stand – an apocalyptic scenario that polarises the survivors into two diametrically opposed groups, heading for a final confrontation with overtones of the supernatural – but the religious element here stems from D’Lacey’s Gaian vision, and reaches boldly into a future society based around it. It tears down the world we know, exposing its falsehoods and cruelties, and shows us how we might, instead, live. It does so through a sweeping, intricate and absolutely compelling narrative, characters that stay with you long after the book is closed, and a use of language that, as you’d expect from this author, combines narrative drive with lyricism and imagination.

D’Lacey’s characterisation is another of his strengths. The child predator Grimwold from Black Feathers reappears in the second novel, but transformed beyond recognition. For King in The Stand, one is picked, perhaps from birth, to be one of the sheep or the goats, the saved or the damned; for D’Lacey, change and redemption are always possibilities, even for the worst of us. In the midst of the big, epic story of the gathering war and Gordon’s lonely quest, D’Lacey weaves the relationship that forms between him and Denise, whose dying child Gordon bonds with in her last moments. The relationship isn’t love – it’s flawed, damaged, damaging and complex – but it’s the closest thing to it that Gordon will ever know, and it’s drawn with subtlety and compassion. In the futuristic passages, Megan’s journey to adulthood and spiritual awakening, and her relationship with Mr Keeper, her tutor and guardian, has equal depth, while in his drawing of Skelton and Pike, the author again shows a Dickensian gift for the grotesque, and a sense of evil that rings horribly true.

D’Lacey’s conclusions, philosophically speaking, are stark: technology is a death-trap, a dead-end that Man must forsake in favour of harmony with his environment if he is to survive. Whether or not you agree with that, The Book of the Crowman’s power as a novel is such that you won’t be able to disregard it. It more than maintains the high standard of its predecessor, brings its epic tale to a rich and satisfying conclusion and serves, above all, as a reminder that Joseph D’Lacey is among the strongest and most individual voices in contemporary horror.

SIMON BESTWICK

Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Paperback: (400pp)
Release Date: 4 March 2014

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