Joseph D’Lacey – The Book of the Crowman

josephdlacey-thebookofthecrowmanIt 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.

The search for the shadowy figure known only as the Crowman continues, as the Green Men prepare to rise up against the forces of the Ward.

The world has been condemned. Only Gordon Black and The Crowman can redeem it.

Last year I was very pleasantly surprised, to put it mildly, by Joseph D’Lacey’s Black Feathers, the first in The Black Dawn duology. I loved the mixture of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic storylines and found D’Lacey’s writing to be compelling and at times poetic in its descriptions. I became very much invested in Gordon and Megan’s stories and I couldn’t wait to find out how they would end in The Book of the Crowman. I got a stunning conclusion to their narrative, but one which struck out in a different direction than I’d anticipated. While I’ll be keeping them to a minimum there might be some things in the review that could be considered spoilers, so be forewarned: there be mild spoilers ahead

As in Black Feathers, the story is told through to alternating timelines, that of Gordon and that of Megan. Both stories are again compelling, though their structure is far more defined and linked than last time; Megan’s walking of the Black-Feathered Path is clearly begun by retelling Gordon’s story in her own Book of the Crowman and there are even moments when they seem to touch. They are also quite different. Where Gordon’s narrative is very much action-based – he fights, he searches, he rescues, and kills – Megan’s story, though not lacking in action, is far more philosophical and a journey of the mind and spirit.

Black Feathers had heavy environmental themes and was very much about the breakdown of society and the way it was later rebuilt. The Book of the Crowman on the other hand carried far more themes of redemption and comparative religion. There is a scene in which Megan discovers that not all Crowman stories are alike, they follow the same general points, but the details vary, sometimes widely. These made me think strongly of how three of the largest religions seemingly have their roots in the same soil, but differ in the way the way they’ve grown to fruition. Or how early mythology from different areas of the Earth show surprisingly many common elements. The Black Dawn ended up far more of a Messiah story than I’d thought from the previous book, but the Crowman is the Earth’s champion, not humanity’s. The novel furnishes fodder for some interesting philosophical discussions. Such as what is the nature of religion? How strong is the power of suggestion, i.e. if someone tells people something is a fact with enough conviction, will they believe them regardless of a lack of tangible evidence? When does doing everything to survive turn into doing evil to survive?

Beyond the characters of the last book we have only few new additions with real impact. Most important are Denise and Flora, a mother-daughter pair Gordon encounters and who renew his hopes to find the Crowman. While Denise’s actions are never judged in the text – I say in the text, because I certainly judged her, even if I shouldn’t have – she’s an utter pragmatist doing whatever she can to stay alive and she does seem to carry a lot of censure, even if most of it is her own. I liked little Flora and the suggestion that is raised about reincarnation of her spirit in the future. It makes me wonder whether out there Gordon (or a reincarnation of him) is waiting for Megan to find him. Another important figure in the book is Carissa, a seer who helps Megan on her journey down the Black-Feathered Path. I found her an interesting character and I’d love to know when and where she and Megan would meet up again.

The book is pretty graphic with a lot of violence. The climactic scene where the Crowman finally emerges was completely epic and at points brought tears to my eyes. This violence is not just part of Gordon’s actions; it is even more intrinsic to the workings of the Ward. The Ward becomes even more sinister and Pike and Skelton are clearly portrayed as insane. I found their (working) relationship ambiguous and unsettling, based as it was not on love or friendship or even similar ideals, but on a predilection for violence. Yet the violence serves a purpose and never goes over the top, though Gordon’s skill with a penknife is nothing short of astounding and sometimes a bit too polished.

This conclusion of The Black Dawn duology blew me away and I found the story and the characters of Megan and Gordon utterly compelling. A series with strong environmental, sociological, and religious themes, The Black Dawn is a stunning feat by a talented word-smith. The Book of the Crowman is a fantastic ending, which couldn’t have been more emotionally engaging or rewarding if it tried. The Black Dawn is a series that shouldn’t be missed.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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  • I was OK with the heavy environmental themes in Black Feathers, but not so much with the religious themes here. They were a turn-off for me, especially since I could see what Gordon was being set up to be, and that robbed the tale of any mystery or suspense.

    Having said that, Megan’s story was nicely handled, Flora was an interesting addition, and Pike and Skelton were dark fun to read about, even if they weren’t quite worthy foils for the Crowman.

    • I can certainly see why you’d dislike the religious themes. And while I did see the inevitable reveal about Gordon’s true identity coming, I hadn’t expected D’Lacey to play out his Messiah role as fully, so I didn’t mind so much, especially after the scene with all the Crowman Books under the tree.