“Black Feathers” Joseph D’Lacey

Joseph D’Lacey’s book Black Feathers is set part in a world just sideways to our own, and partly in the future of that world. The “present day” parts follow Gordon as he grows up to the cusp of puberty then has to learn to live in & deal with the dystopian & crumbling society of 2013’s Britain – a world that’s like but not like our own, where the sinister Ward have taken over the role that the police & the government should be playing. The future follows Megan, again a child on the verge of becoming an adult. Her poor but idyllic sounding childhood ends as she’s called to be apprenticed to Mr Keeper, a shaman-like figure who remembers the story of the Black Dawn & the coming of the Bright Day. Gordon & Megan’s stories are interlinked – most prominently through the figure of the Crowman. Venerated, worshipped and feared in Megan’s day, he’s just whispered about as a shadowy figure in Gordon’s time and somehow Gordon is linked to him. There’s something dreamlike about the story, which seems appropriate to both Megan’s initiation into mysteries & Gordon’s search for the Crowman. It’s a dark & twisted dream, tho – gruesome and unpleasant things happen – and it’s not clear if ultimately it’s going to come to a good or a bad end.

I’m … not sure what I think of this book. I started off really liking it, but somewhere along the way I forgot that it was the first part of a series (a duology I think) and then it just kinda stopped. There’s not much in the way of resolution to either story thread and yet I wasn’t really left wanting to find out what happened next – I’d sort of run out of enthusiasm for it. Like somehow I thought the idea only had legs for one book’s length and now I’m left thinking “oh, there’s another whole book to fill?”.

There’s stuff I did like – the ambiguity of the Crowman for instance. The things the characters say imply ultimately he (it?) is a force for or personification of something good or at least mostly beneficial even if not in ways that humanity can always comprehend. But the way the narrative shows him to the reader is as much darker and twisted, I’m not sure if there’s anything “good” about the Crowman at all. But equally he’s set against the Ward, who are definitely not good at all – they’re a menacing caricature of secret police that don’t seem to have any redeeming features at all. So this is not a face off between good & evil, but it is a face off with evil.

But overall, I’m not sure what I think. And I suspect by the time the next book is published next year I’ll’ve forgotten about the series.

“The Wasp Factory” Iain Banks

The Wasp Factory is technically part of my great re-read of the fiction on the shelves. It’s on the shelves, but I’ve never read it before. My brother had a copy when we both still lived at home (and he probably still has his copy) – so that must be late 80s or early 90s – and I remember flicking through a few pages here & there and deciding not to read it. I also remember my father reading it and mentioning it was gruesome. The copy on the shelf is one that J bought some time ago, and when I asked him to get it off the shelf (I can’t reach the top shelves of the bookcases without standing on chairs, it’s easier to ask) he said “oh, well that’ll be a ‘fun’ read for you”. So I approached the book with some trepidation …

Rightly so, as it very much lived up to the reputation it had built up in my head. And yet while I can’t say I enjoyed it per se, I’m glad I finally read it. Except now I’m stuck with trying to think of something to say about it! 😉

We’re inside the head of Frank, our 17 year old protagonist. Frank is not what one might call sane, to put it mildly. He’s been brought up in semi-isolation by his not entirely mentally stable father since the unfortunate incident when he was 3 years old. The story picks up when his older brother Eric escapes from the loony bin and starts to make his way home. Frank thinks about the past as he prepares himself & his home for his brother’s return & we learn about what he’s done & what his brother’s done & eventually what made him & them as disturbed as they are. I clearly read a bit of the end of the book before – I knew what the big reveal was for Frank. And I equally clearly hadn’t chanced across the big reveal for Eric’s own unfortunate incident, as I’m sure I’d’ve remembered it if I had.

As well as the black humour I think what saves it from being gross & instead made it a compelling read is the matter of factness of the presentation. Frank admits to being a little eccentric, but as he goes about blowing things up and killing small animals to make wards for the island you can see as the reader that he’s deeply deeply fucked up, but he just trundles along with an air of “well, obviously I’m doing that, it’s so clearly the right thing to do”. I picked there a couple of the milder indications of Frank’s disturbed nature – there’s a lot of death in this book, and a lot of it caused deliberately by Frank (although not all). Very much not for the squeamish reader.

I’m not quite sure what I think of it as a book, nor what I think it was about under the twistedness of it – a lack of anything intelligent to say here I’m afraid. While I’m glad I read it, partly because it’s been on the periphery of my awareness for so long, it’s not filled me with any desire to read any of the rest of Banks’s non-SF books (luckily for me we don’t own any more of that side of his work).