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Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey

Black Feathers by Joseph D'LaceyPublisher: Angry Robot
Paperback (416pp)

If the punchy, sexually-charged pulp of 2012’s Blood Fugue marked a welcome return to novel-writing for Joseph D’Lacey, Black Feathers marks an even more welcome return to the visionary eco-horror of his first two novels. It is also D’Lacey’s most ambitious work yet.

The first in the ‘Black Dawn’ series of novels, Black Feathers consists of two intertwined storylines; those of Gordon Black and Megan Maurice. The first takes place in our very near future – Gordon Black’s birth, marked by mysterious signs and portents, takes place in a Britain increasingly scarred by ecological disasters, economic crisis, creeping totalitarianism and the rising power of the corporate militia called the Ward.

The Black family – country-raised father Louis, urbanite mother Sophie, sullen Angela and nurturing Judith – struggle to keep going in their isolated farmstead, until the day the Wardsmen, led by the vicious Ward Sheriff Archibald Skelton and his terrifying henchman Mordaunt Pike, come to take them away. Only Gordon escapes, but as the boy soon learns, he’s the one the Wardsmen want.

On the run, hounded by Pike and Skelton, Gordon learns of a mysterious, half-mythic figure known as the Crowman, Black Jack and the Scarecrow. Some prophecies claim the Crowman is a destroyer, others a saviour, but all agree that a terrible catastrophe is coming, and that he’ll be at the heart of it. And Gordon discovers that he has a mission, has done since his birth, to find the Crowman.

Hundreds of years later, in the agrarian, animistic society that has arisen in the aftermath of the great disaster, Megan Maurice’s parents summon the local shaman, Mr Keeper, to visit her after she sees the Crowman in the woods. Megan has been chosen to become Keeper’s apprentice and to succeed him in time. But Megan, too, has a prophecy to fulfil and a quest to undertake. Her success or failure will determine the earth’s future.

Each storyline is fascinating and gripping in its own right; as the novel gathers pace they grow more and more closely intertwined. D’Lacey is a compelling prose stylist, able to weave a terrible lyric beauty out of atrocity and cataclysm. His characterisation, too, is deft  – he’s as capable at evoking loveable characters such as Louis’ parents, his sister Jude and the kindly but mysterious Mr Keeper, as he is at creating almost Dickensian grotesques like Skelton, Pike and the vicious paedophile Grimwold. D’Lacey both brings to life the rustic world and simple faith of Megan Maurice and weaves magic into the world we know.

Black Feathers reads like the post-apocalyptic novel you always wished Graham Joyce would write. It isn’t perfectly flawless – the dialogue D’Lacey puts in his characters’ mouths clunks at times – but it fuses a host of contemporary concerns and dreads (climate change, peak oil, recession, the ruthless cutting of public services, the erosion of civil liberties and the relentless growth of corporate control over public policy) together with science fiction, fantasy, Machenesque horror and D’Lacey’s Gaian concerns into a rich, dark and compelling fable for our times.

On top of everything else, D’Lacey is a compelling storyteller. From the first lines, Black Feathers weaves a mesmerising spell. The second half of the story is still to come, and on this novel’s evidence it will be well worth waiting for. Joseph D’Lacey is back with a vengeance, and it’s like he never went away.

SIMON BESTWICK

Second Opinion

“Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey is a complex, multi-faceted addition to the post-apocalypse
canon. It has the assured touch of a writer with several well received books to his name and a
trust in his readers to be patient as he weaves together two distinct narrative threads spanning
two separate time periods. Details of what befell the characters and the world – in the near-future
storyline – and how those in the far-future re-built society are teased out masterfully and allow
the reader to engage their brain rather than detailing every element which would have cluttered
what is an epic storyline. Volume two is eagerly anticipated.”

ROSS WARREN

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