Feather Bound

Feather Bound - Sarah Raughley Firstly, a big thanks to Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry/Exhibit A for providing me with a copy of the book to review and the opportunity to read it, I was looking forward to devolve into this one and discover for myself the world of the swan maiden reimagined.

Now, this book walks a rather thin line between its faults and it’s moments of triumph, though I would say interest or amusement would fit better in this case or even just shuddering. And even though those moments existed there weren’t that many of them. I think this one should be a 2.5, right in the middle of the scale, because I simply do not know what conclusion I should draw up.

This book is yet another in a growing list of books that are advertised improperly. The summary made the book sound much more energetic and fast paced, though the actual plot took some time to get established and was not as riveting in fact as promised. I would say however that the “twisted truth about Cinderella” is what really will throw most readers off, because that really isn’t what you’re getting in this book. There is a combination of fairytales and existing stories being modernized in this story, but Cinderella was definitely not a major one, nor would I say the comparison that apparent. Yes there was a ball, there is socializing and galas, and Deanne’s position in her family is, in some ways, below that of her other two sisters, but she isn’t a slave.

The way she is treated throughout the story and trying to escape from the cage of blackmail she was trapped into relates more to the tale of the swan maiden (or the Selkie folklore, for those who are also familiar with it). Even then, the reimagining becomes messy at some point, the overall concept of swans generally confusing. They could be seen as a fairytale metaphor for people, in general, who were enslaved or trapped into doing labour, yet the book persistently refers to them as ‘swans’. It is never really described how they continue to persist, although some of the pamphlets Adrianna and Deanne read in the book briefly skim over the ‘causes’ of being a swan. The term is just there. It isn’t explained where swans originate from, or any general ideas. After finishing the book in fact I still stick with my original feeling that it should be viewed as a metaphor for people who are mistreated or done harm to.

Thus is probably the biggest problem of the book: world building. There isn’t a concrete establishment of what’s going on, and right away the reader is propelled into a string of events that take several chapters to get into. I wish there was more back story on Deanne and her family. Yes there was talk of her father’s issues with alcohol and the complicated characteristics of her sisters that she mediates between, but there isn’t much talk of her past with her mother, of what life was like before. Her childhood memories with Hyde are basically the focal point of anything existing prior to the present moment of the story.

Now I know there are different types of kids and maybe it’s because I’m basing this off of my own childhood experiences, but still – I don’t know many 8 year old girls who have 10 year old boyfriends. Maybe there are some who do, but majority probably aren’t comfortable with the concept at that age still. So when Deanne discovers about Hyde and Ade is referring to him as her ‘dead childhood boyfriend’, I was lost to the idea. They were close friends, best friends even, but I don’t think calling them a boyfriend and girlfriend would really be appropriate. It was one of several moments in the book when I felt the author pushed it a bit too much, maybe to appeal to the teenage audience it was meant for.

The romance in the book was pretty hard to swallow. People get that intense kick of energy and feelings when reunited with their old friends, yes, but Hyde’s crossed into obsessive and a bit scary even. Some girls dream of a guy that’ll load them with flowers, chocolates, DVDs, heck maybe they even want a Mariachi band! Here though it didn’t work. Not only that, but Deanne’s view of “he’s obsessive and stuck in the past” went to “I have such strong feelings of attachment to him” so fast that it didn’t feel natural. Maybe to some that is the way it happens, I don’t know, but as a YA romance it didn’t stick together. As Deanne said herself, the couple was so focused on their past together that it felt like that was the only thing that held their relationship together, though it was ripping at the seams.

Deanne’s character was written to be a ‘bad ass’ kind of girl, or at least one with a strong, confident attitude and a backbone; somehow this didn’t succeed as strongly as hoped. It’s understood that someone in her situation would go through much stress and wonder about it, but the extent to which Deanne’s thoughts keep repeating themselves got a bit tiring. She didn’t appeal that much as a main character, and was difficult to understand, along with her sisters. The same was the problem with practically all the characters, which gradually seemed to fill pre-existing roles already established in YA fiction. The ending of this book, there was so much that could’ve been done about Deanne and Hyde and her sisters even, but instead it felt rushed, deescalating quickly with only a quick mention at the end of an organization that was set up for the swans. It’s tough to believe that people who went through as much as the main characters in this book did could just swallow it that easily.

Although about half the book was basically the establishment for the second half of it, I must say that the way Deanne resolved her problem was intense and action packed, as well as logical. The ball in the middle of the book somehow flopped for me, but the ending really packed a punch, and was the one bright moment for me in the book, though it came with some shaking of the head and even a couple cringes. I only wish that that wave of intensity had been carried all the way to the end without disappearing.

The book needs some kind of warning however, and hopefully people that have somehow been touched by the themes touched upon in this book will not pick it up as I think it would be rather triggering. There was a lot of emphasis on the forced sex and human trafficking but not enough on the fairytale feel of the story, which slowly slipped away towards the end. The every-so-often ‘chapters’ that appeared with snippets of the original story felt a bit out of place, or came at the wrong points in the story, thus not being as big an emphasis s they had the potential to be.

And that is the one conclusion which I DID draw from the book: it had so much potential, but somewhere along the way it got lost and dwindled, dying out like an ember. There was a bit too much attempted mixing of stories and attention given to the here-and-now, leaving the world and characters to sort of fend for themselves. Yes, this book can be viewed as a strong metaphor for slavery, abuse, all the negativity and pain that is done to people, as well as the story of Hyde which covers a vast range of topics, but somehow it didn’t work. It became a novel that was trying to appeal and be like popular YA novels while all the beautiful, powerful messages of the story got slowly pushed back.

And despite all that, something about the book charmed me.

So give this one a go and judge for yourself, though do think about the rather emotional and triggering themes referred to here. It’ll capture your attention and keep you reading, and maybe leave a stronger impact than it had left on me. I don’t regret reading this however, and if anything would maybe wish that the author returns to her created world of great potential and make the story grow more, for there really is so much that can be emphasized if only it were properly brought to the surface.