Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews a brand new debut title from Solaris Books, an urban fantasy about angels and demons.
“Blood and Feathers stands out proudly in a year full of stellar debuts.”~The Founding Fields
Lou Morgan is another writer I’ve discovered through Twitter this year and have interacted a fair bit with on numerous topics, as befits the informality of that social medium. I’ve had a pretty good experience overall with all such authors and truthfully Lou is another one for the list of authors I’m keeping, authors that folks should really watch out for. Its so surprising really when I sit down to think about it. I’ve never read so much in a single year, nor so widely either and I’m quite happy that my experiment with genre reading outside of mainstream SFF has been so successful. Alongwith Chris F. Holm’s The Collector novels, Lou’s Blood and Feathers is another novel that has given me an appreciation for urban fantasy, particularly in the sub-genre that deals with angels and demons.
Honestly, the cover wasn’t all that interesting to me, just like with Chris’ novels, which is kind of a weird comparison to draw between them but is probably just a hint of how good the novel is, all things considering. I don’t actually read a lot of reviews from the reviewers I follow on social media, but praise for authors is something that is prevalent enough that sooner or later you do get around to hearing of. Which was the case with Blood and Feathers as well so I thought why not, let’s try it.
Like I said, this is another novel about angels and demons, the third I’ve read so far this year. But it is still pretty refreshing in scope since it takes a very different approach to these characters than I’ve come across before. There are no clear good guys and bad guys here, just a bit morally gray since even the Angels are hardcases who often only care about the bottom-line. The demons (or the Fallen rather)are evil but there are ample hints that not all of them are actually that bad really. Interesting juxtapositions which set the book apart from others in the same category of novels.
The characterisation is pretty excellent where the protagonist, Alice, and her angelic companions Mallory, Vin and Gwyn. The chemistry between all of them is electric, tortured, and deeply personal. Alice is a normal twenty-something girl who gets caught up in events beyond her comprehension, events where angels and the Fallen are actually real and inhabit the same world as the people around her. She is thrust into a role as a half-angel who has great intrinsic value to both sides of the religious conflict going on since the earliest days of Christianity. Lou captures Alice’s fears, her crushed hopes for herself, and her new dreams so well that you feel as if you are right there in her head. That’s a rare thing for a debut author to get right but Lou succeeds here aplenty. Alice really is a fantastic character to read about, very memorable and endearing. She reminds me of Lyra from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, although she is a far bit older.
Mallory and Vin are both Earthbound angels who are being “punished” by their superiors for committing some transgression or the other. Its somewhat like probation, “release” pending on good behaviour. With this, Lou explores the complex angelic hierarchy of Archangel, Descended angel and Earthbound angel, contrasted against the various Fallen who call Hell home. And there are also halfbloods like Alice who are mentored by the Earthbound for acceptance into the ranks of Heaven’s armies, or, should they fall as well, into Hell’s armies. Mallory is definitely the standout character in the novel, more so than Alice. He is cynical, honest to a fault, often drunk, and with a bad case of living hygiene. None of which comes to mind when I think “angel”. But then that’s what Lou does, she breaks down preconceptions and creates an open sandbox where she can challenge those preconceptions and do something different with them. Characters like Mallory and Vin often talk about this, referring to themselves as angels who don’t sit around on clouds playing harps and such. Some delightful world-building and mythos here.
Vin, although he doesn’t have that many scenes in the novel, is just as endearing as Mallory or Alice. His friendly banter with Mallory sets him apart from Gwyn who is often condescending and dismissive of them. The angels aren’t just angels, they are very much like humans. They often suffer from the same flaws as us, and this helped me to relate with them much better. In a novel where the author goes so much in-depth to explore their culture, this is all the more important. The images conjured up when you read of Vin and Mallory unloading with their guns on a bunch of Fallen, backed up by several of their friends is just too iconic to be forgotten any time soon.
The plot and pacing of the novel are also interesting. On one side, Blood and Feathers is a pretty fast-paced read, and on the other, the plot takes its time with introducing the reader to the setting and the characters, both good and evil. It can be said that the novel is about redemption by proxy where Alice is concerned, as well as redemption by being the biggest effin badass you can be where Mallory is concerned, and that ultimately it is all about ambition and arrogance. There are a lot of themes that are running through the novel and at one time it can seem like a big jumble of things but the author holds them all to a near-perfect consistency and gives them ample time to shine through to the reader. Given the various characters that we see over the course of the novel, these are perfect themes to explore and talk about. And the twists and turns that the author throws up before the reader are really deserving of being called that because they are set up in a way that you just can’t see them coming. And when they do come, they change the playing board significantly. It all serves to draw the reader further into the story and keep them into it until the story ends on the final page.
Overall, I think that Blood and Feathers is a really good debut novel and that while it has a few negatives such as a really weird opening chapter that doesn’t make sense until much further into the novel, and a couple “mysteries” that don’t get explained until much towards the end, I can recommend it to everyone who reads urban fantasy. The negatives aren’t really that big of a deal really, at least they weren’t for me. The enjoyment factor of the novel is pretty high and ultimately, that’s what matters to me most as a reader. Blood and Feathers is a solid, gripping read.