‘The Weight of Feathers’ is a young adult fantasy debut telling a Romeo and Juliet type story with hints of magical realism and Latine and Romani culture. At its heart, its a romance – so it’s a shame that the romance is one of the weaker elements. The characters and plot are solid, but there’s an element of distance between the reader and the story which makes the romance hard to connect to. Overall, this is a solid debut with many highlights, but its chosen focus is not its strength.
For twenty years, the Palomas and Corbeau’s have been locked in a feud. Both families make their living as travelling performers – the Paloma’s in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeau’s going from tightrope walkers to aerial performers in the tallest trees they can find. Lace Paloma is new to performing, but she knows that the Corbeau’s are magia negra – black magic borne of the devil. Touching one could mean death. However, when disaster strikes, it’s a Corbeau boy who saves Lace’s life. Increasingly immersed in the Corbeau’s world, Lace finds herself treading a fine ine just like the Corbeau aerial walkers – a line where one misstep could mean death.
This is a dual perspective book, switching between Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau. Lace is a kindhearted girl – she hates the Corbeau’s with all the fear and passion of her family, but otherwise she has a clear sense of right and wrong and looks after those around her – but also self-conscious as many teenagers are, especially around her looks. As a performer, she feels less pretty than those around her and insecure in her place in her family. Being touched by a Corbeau, even to help, is her worst nightmare, igniting a spiral of hatred and self-pity – but also curiosity, and its this latter emotion that wins out. Lace feels like a realistic portrayal of a teenager, easy to empathise with even when her actions are irrational.
Cluck is exceptionally easy to like. Disabled – lacking the use of three fingers on his left hand – and with discoloured feathers, he’s both an outcast in his own family and an essential part. The oil behind the scenes that keeps their show running, he’s a peacekeeper, happy to take the hit so that others don’t have to. Clearly more intelligent than he first seems, he’s the sort of character the reader roots for – but when he starts wanting things for himself, it destabilises the delicate Corbeau family balance. Cluck’s attraction to Lace is clear – she’s an outsider, and hence forbidden, but she’s also the first person to look at him and see him, rather than a cog in a machine.
The magical realism elements are very light, complimenting the story. The writing style meshes with the fantasy perfectly, creating a slightly surreal atmosphere where anything seems possible, but with a definite darker edge. There are no lavish descriptions, but an air of mystery and a sense things will come tumbling down.
The chosen protagonists are diverse and this is another strength. Cluck and his family are Romani, and the book does a good job of lightly exploring prejudice against the Romani – including the use of slurs, which are explained as offensive on-page. Cluck’s disability is present and affects him, but again is just another facet of his character. Lace and her family are Latine, and again this culture is woven through the book, adding depth. The one area I feel could be explored more is Lace’s relationship with food. Lace is immensely worried about her size and this gives her an unhealthy relationship with food and eating – something which is touched upon and highlighted as problematic, but not explored as far as it could be.
The romance is the weakest element, I think because the book is so short – clocking in just over 300 pages. Lace and Cluck go from Lace seeing him as her enemy and the cause for all her problems to romantic interests in an immensely short space of time. Its easy to understand how this happens for Cluck, but for Lace it feels out of character. The later romantic scenes are well-written and believable, but the early seens feel somewhat out of the blue and pull the reader out of the story. A little more build-up would make the story feel much more smooth.
Endings are difficult, and the ending here is again a little rushed and confusing – but by and large it fits the rest of the story. There’s a lot of ambiguity, leaving the reader to decide the precise fallout.
All in all, ‘The Weight of Feathers’ creates an intriguing atmosphere filled with relatable characters and a clear sense of tension – it’s just let down by pacing, especially with regards to the central romance. Being a debut, these are niggles that can be ironed out in future work, and I’d happily check out other books by the author. Recommended for fans of circus stories and magical realism.
Published by Wednesday Books
Paperback: 26th September 2017