Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Four and Twenty Blackbirds" by Cherie Priest

Title: "Twenty Four Blackbirds"
Author: Cherie Priest
Pages: 288
Publisher: Tor [2005]
Genre: Southern Gothic
Series/Standalone: Book 1, The Eden Moore series

What you should expect: I consider this a healthy specimen of literature, which provides a satisfactory time invested in the story. Coincidentally this has been my introduction to the Southern Gothic genre and though I personally can’t pinpoint the identifying features and characteristics that distinguish this genre from other contemporary pieces with paranormal and fantasy elements, if most titles representative of it deliver as “Four and Twenty Black Birds” then I am a fan.

Pros: Perhaps the biggest strength here at play is the writing itself, since the author possesses this quality about her prose that entrances the reader and erases all perception of time. Then I would have to add a likeable heroine that excited me and convinced me that I should care for her as an actual person. Not to mention the cover art...

Cons: I am not exactly sure what I can point out here apart from my mild dissatisfaction with the role of the three ghosts in the story. I guess it’s because it’s a first book in a trilogy and acts as an introduction, but I wished for more ghost involvement.

The Summary: Eden Moore’s life never quite fit into the statistical nuclear family mold. For one she is of mixed blood with two family sides not too keen to be related. Also she can see and communicate with the dead. In fact she has done so since a very early age and for longest has seen three sisters, who are also related to Eden. Through most of her childhood and young adult years the ghosts have warned her of danger in the face of Malachi, Eden’s cousin bent on killing her. With time Eden becomes curious about her heritage; an investigation, which leads her to an abandoned mental institution and several near death experiences. All the clues lie within her family’s past, but the answers are quite scary.

Characters: “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” documents Eden’s childhood, teen hood and early adult years and it does so through an exclusive first person point of view. Eden is likeable as well as believable, which makes reading this novel effortless. Perhaps what I liked best in her as a person was her inner strength, because it was well measured. Unlike most heroines I have followed through numerous adventures Eden realizes fully that the search for answers to her ability to see ghosts is dangerous. The ominous warnings received from her relatives, both alive and dead, undermine her confidence, yet her own life has been put to danger, because of her past. Knowing always has an unpleasant price, in this case, some dangerous consequences and yet Eden has decided, has a plan after weighing the danger and is bent on getting her way, but with due care.

Despite the POV Priest successfully fleshes out the support cast through Eden’s eyes and they are not listed and discarded as silhouettes in Eden’s life. Whatever emotional attachment this heroine feels towards her relatives, the readers are able to experience it full on. Malachi, Eden’s personal executioner, only comes off as a clumsy and non threatening figure, because Eden herself doesn’t identify him as a threat. This is what I call characterization at its highest.

Story: Digging into one’s own past is not always a pleasant task and sometimes can bring out secrets, which people struggled to mask under the layers of years. When this idea merges with the rich in legends and old wife’s tales of the American Southern an inherently creepy story can be given birth. Almost throughout the whole book the pages were tinted with a heavy air of suspense and morbidity and I accredit this to the sparse, but old school usage of ghosts as ominous messengers veiled in mystery, who leave the living at unease, rather than the more talkative versions in urban fantasy. Then again we have a story, which stretches through a series of uncomfortable places such as an abandoned mental institution, a run down motel, a century’s old family house and a cabin in the swamps. On their own these locations can heighten a normal person’s heartbeat with relative ease, yet these combined with Priest’s scenic descriptions elevate the experience to a new dimension altogether. As a non American I can’t identify myself with any of the geography, landmarks and scenery, though I can testify that through Priest’s prose I had an out-of-body experience and traveled into a very vivid and real world.

Verdict: To me gothic literature is a potion, even though I am not well read in the field, and as such utilizes its ingredients to the fullest to create a full time goose-bumps sensation. Priest is an A student at mixing concoctions and quite surprising for a debut.


Kristopher said...

I've been meaning to read this book for awhile. Thanks for the review.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Gothic writing is a potion, you've got that right on, and when done well it is a heady and intoxicating potion that makes you want more and more. I just skimmed your review because I do want to finally get to this some day, but what I read made me even more excited about it.

Harry Markov said...

The book is awesome and has to be read. Glad you found this helpful. I tried to be not too revealing.

Anonymous said...

I get confused by all the various genres- Southern gothic?

Any way, it sounds fascinating and I like the idea that the places are so important, both to the story and creating the atmosphere.

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