Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fantasy Review: The Book of the Crowman by Joseph D'Lacey

It's taken me a little while to decide how I feel about The Book of the Crowman. I'll be honest. I am somebody who reads for story, for plot, for characters, and for the strength of the narrative. I read to be entertained. I am not somebody who looks for messages, for themes, for morals, or for hidden meanings. I don't read to be preached at.

While there is no doubt that Joseph D'Lacey is a preacher, he at least couches his message in an entertaining framework. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed Black Feathers, and had no trouble absorbing the environmental message contained therein. With that ecological message getting mixed up with some deeply religious symbolism and allegory here, however, I found myself drifting away towards the end.

Before we get to that, let's talk about what entertained me. The intersection of Gordon and Megan's narratives was both interesting and complex, with greater significance given to the narrative junctions after the fact. There were some incredibly powerful scenes here, both of a brutally violent and a breathtakingly intimate nature. Take, for instance, the scene where Gordon slips into strange campsite and discovers the cannibalism taking place. The young bodies trussed up, with heads and genitals removed, blooded but not yet skinned, make for an arresting image, and the eye-for-an-eye revenge that Gordon enacts is as cathartic as it is savage. Consider also the scenes with young Flora, the sickly, crippled, extraordinarily bright young toddler with a connection to the Crowman. She reminds Gordon of his humanity, and grants him the hope and the faith that he needs to continue, even as her plight breaks the reader's heart.

The twists, turns, and revelations entertained me as well. There's a point at which we discover the truth about the letters from Jude, Gordon's sister, which just about floored me, leaving me stunned and deeply impressed. There's a change in our understanding of Mr. Keeper that was as entertaining as it was surprising. There is a significant betrayal in the latter stages of the book that probably should have seen coming, but I still found myself surprised by its power. Finally, the character of Rag Man honestly shocked me, with the revelation that he's a character we already know and hate, and never expected to make a return appearance.

Unfortunately, a lot of that overshadowed by the heavy-handedness of the message. Black Feathers made it clear we were dealing with an ecological message warning of our impending doom, but The Book of the Crowman keeps pushing it, throwing it in our faces, and demanding that we listen. Something I didn't notice in the first book, but which severely tainted my enjoyment here was the Christian allegory. The healing powers, the profound faith, the prostitute disciple, the tragic betrayal, the moment of doubt, even [spoilers here] the freakin' crucifixion and the whole holy trinity thing - Gordon may as well trade in his black-feathered hat for a halo! It's not just that the religious allegory holds zero appeal for me, or that it does nothing to make me believe in the struggle, it's that it completely telegraphs the end of the story. Goodbye suspense.

As for the end, I found it completely unsatisfying, and not just for the reasons above. It felt flat to me, anti-climatic, and unfinished. It's full of hints and suggestions, but it offers nothing in the way of a concrete resolution. We're told that [spoilers here, again] Gordon's sacrifice makes the difference in the war between the Green Men and the Ward, but we have to take that on faith, since we neither get to see how the war turns out, nor do we get to see what follows. In case you haven't guessed by now, faith and I don't get along so well.

I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm dumping on it, because it was an interesting story, well-written, with a really unique protagonist. It's just that The Book of the Crowman strayed too far from what I expected, and went too deep into waters I had no interest in being baptized by. From a thematic and mythological standpoint, it's probably a fitting end to the story, but from an entertainment standpoint, I found it personally lacking.


Expected publication: February 25th 2014 by Angry Robot

2 comments:

  1. I liked the first book well enough and this is on my to-read list, if I can ever find some time to catch up on sequels. I'm sorry it didn't really work for you, but I can totally sympathize on not wanting to be preached at. I'll prepare myself when I pick this up.

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  2. I loved the first one, but have to admit, I keep putting off reading the second mainly to avoid being preached at. I've been a bit leery this one will have even more or stronger 'messages', and sounds like that is the case. I still want to read it, I just need to be in a mood where that won't bother me.

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