“The Weight Of Feathers” by Anna-Marie McLemore

I requested The Weight of Feathers from NetGalley with no real expectations of what the book would be like, having never heard of it or the author. I liked the cover, and while the blurb made it sound like there would be romance, I thought it looked original enough not to set off my anti-romance radar. (That’s a thing.)

weight of feathersThe story centres around two families, both of whom perform for a living. The Palomas are mermaids: the girls of the family swim with artificial tails and convince the tourists of their otherworldly nature. The Corveaus are birds, fairies with feathered wings performing high in the tree tops.

In some ways, there is magic in this book, but more than that there is a belief in magic, whether or not it actually exists. The two families each have a distinctive birthmark — Palomas a small patch of scales on their skin, Corveaus feathers growing under their hair. Both have superstitions regarding the other family, believing them capable of cursing each other. And both hold the other responsible for something that happened twenty years before.

The narrative shows us this story from two perspectives. Lace, from the Paloma family, is one of their mermaids — even if she’s not as pretty or as thin as some of the others. Cluck, from the Corveaus, is something of an outcast, and mostly relegated to making costumes. Both have their own long-held beliefs about what happened a few years before they were born, and as a result, they both have their prejudices and fears about what happened.

This was actually really interesting: as a reader, I didn’t know whose version of the story was true, or even if either of them were. I didn’t know how much there was really magic in the story, and how much there was superstition to cover up real, mundane events. This unreliable narration drew me in; while I hadn’t been that intrigued by the opening chapters, soon I wanted to know what had really happened.

And ultimately, that is revealed, in a way that makes the book very satisfying. It’s got a completeness to it that so few books have these days: no cliffhanger hinting at a series, no loose threads left dangling by design or by laziness. Instead, it draws together the mysteries into one plot, and solves them.

Personally, I liked that. I liked that I was rewarded, as a reader, for sticking with it. I didn’t feel cheated out of anything.

I like how this superstition was contrasted with a very real problem: a factory that hasn’t taken appropriate safety measures, that cost Cluck’s grandfather his health, that blights the town as well as being the only job keeping many families afloat. The factory is the antagonist, even if the families may blame each other, and the disaster it causes draws Cluck and Lace together.

My favourite YA books are funny, with lots of sarcasm and snappy one-liners. There wasn’t a lot of that in this book, although there were a few moments of wit, but I didn’t feel like it took itself too seriously either. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, it just approached things in a different way: tension was relieved by beauty rather than comedy, most of the time. Although this quote is one of the exceptions:

“What’s your name?” Cluck asked.
“None of your business,” she said.
“How’s that look frosted on a birthday cake?”

For the most part, though, it was the beauty that caught my attention. Some of the descriptions were absolutely gorgeous. The writing was elegant and poetic, but it didn’t ever feel overblown. It wasn’t the kind of pretentious ‘purple’ prose that I quickly get fed up with while reading — it improved my reading experience rather than getting in the way.

I’m trying to avoid giving you any quotes that could constitute spoilers, so I can’t give you my favourites, but this one is pretty lovely:

She tried to keep out the feeling that the rain was a million lit matches. And the strange smell in the air that was a little like apple cider if apple cider was the venom of some night creature, the rain and stars its teeth.

And then the romance. Since I’ve made it pretty clear that romance isn’t my thing, I need to talk about this. Quite simply: I liked it. I liked how they gradually grew closer rather than it being an instant thing. I liked that it wasn’t framed as some kind of Romeo & Juliet, at least not by both of them; Cluck spends a lot of the book unaware of Lace’s Paloma heritage. I liked that they seemed to be friends as well as being interested in kissing each other. I liked that they shared their passions (climbing trees, swimming) and helped the other experience new things in life.

I liked it. And that’s saying something, coming from me, the Vulcan who can’t deal with emotions. Heh.

On the whole, the book surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. The opening chapters didn’t instantly hook me, but the longer I read, the more engrossed I became. I didn’t have any major problems with the book, because all the things that made it a little difficult (e.g. the unreliable narration made it slightly confusing at the start) were also part of its strengths.

It isn’t rocketing the top of my favourites list, because that takes something that really blows me away, but it was definitely a solid and enjoyable read, and I’ll be looking out for other books by the author — I like her style, and like I said, the descriptions are gorgeous.

So it’s getting a strong four stars from me.

Rating: ****

The Weight Of Feathers is due to be released on September 15th, 2015 by St Martin’s Press (Thomas Dunne Books). The above review refers to a review copy received from NetGalley, so quotes may not be final, blah blah blah, etc etc. You get the idea. /end disclaimer

Buy ‘The Weight of Feathers’ on Amazon (UK)

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