Ten years ago, Michael left an alternate world where a druid-like tribe worshiped the shape shifting god, Corvus. He sought asylum in Maine. During his exile, he developed a rare disease, which he believed could only be cured by returning home to seek out the magic of his people.
Alena is strongly attracted to Michael from the first moment she sets eyes upon him. Should she heed her instincts or comply with tribal rule, which would have her shun him?
What I Liked:
Blackbird puts an original spin on the werewolf/shapeshifter genre that has become so popular these days. In it, you will not find the typical pack full of buff men and lithe women who strut around in the nude all the time because of magically induced wardrobe malfunctions. There is no snarky heroine who is reluctantly brought into the fold. There are power struggles, but not between alphas and betas where fur flies and blood spills. Instead, there are back room deals and betrayals. There’s intimidation and manipulation. Magic is both part of religious worship and oppression.
The mythos is well thought out and plays a significant role in the book. It’s not just window dressing.
“Sol and Luna, God and Goddess of the sun and the moon, Father and Mother of the heaves and the earth, joined as one and gave birth to four children. First born was Fatum, the god of Fate. Second born was Tempus, the god of Time. Third born was Venefica, the Witch of the Shadowlands, and last born was Corvus, The Beast of the Otherworld.”
~ Blackbird by L.E. Harrison
Characters you can love and hate
Many of the characters feel like types to me rather than full-fledged people, but they are types that reliably push my buttons. Most of us can relate to the misunderstood and mistreated characters who operate on the margins of society. Both Alena and Michael fit the bill. We root for them because it’s like rooting for ourselves. Then there’s Donnal, the half brother who is power hungry, jealous, and abusive. He’s just the kind of guy we love to hate.
What I Didn’t Like:
The opening lines of a novel should capture a reader’s attention and should set things in motion. Why the author chose to start this novel with a conversation between two very young children and their father, I cannot fathom. First of all, the children are not even remotely important in The Raven. Secondly, writing dialog for young people is notoriously difficult. It almost always comes across as annoying and often the author misses the mark in replicating age appropriate linguistic features. What’s charming in real life is sometimes impossible to capture on the page.
“I don’t like Uncle Andrew, Daddy,” Jon-Jon complained. “He’s mean. When’s Uncle Michael coming back?”
“Shut up, stupid,” hissed Sarina…”
The first chapter is a hot mess. It starts out with the irritating children, moves on to Daddy’s memories, many names are bandied about, then a package is delivered from some mysterious source and Daddy reads some obscure mythology that we don’t yet have any reason to care about. If I were the editor, I would have cut out the first chapter entirely and instructed the author to work this backstory in throughout the rest of the book. It could have been done far more elegantly and allowed action to propel us through the book rather than burdening us with a recital of information. I almost put down the book in disgust, but am more of an intrepid reader than that, so I continued on.
The following chapters are remarkably better, precisely because they are grounded in action and move the story forward. Each one is told by a different character. I enjoyed the different perspectives on the key events.
The author drops some hints that she views Alena as a strong female lead.
“Auburn hair and the face of a mischievous angel hid the soul of a warrior…”
But time and time again, her heroic efforts fall flat and she ends up being the one who needs rescuing.
“I felt safe and secure for the first time since setting out on this journey to rescue Michael. He had ended up rescuing me instead.”
I get it. It’s supposed to be romantic and make us swoon. Unfortunately, it just makes Alena look weak and ineffective.
TRIGGER WARNING: Blackbird contains depictions of domestic abuse which may be triggering to survivors.
One of the pivotal moments in the book is a scene of domestic abuse. While it’s advisable for anyone who might feel triggered by such a scene to avoid it, I don’t object to its inclusion. I do, however, have some issues with how it’s framed.
After this brutal scene of domestic abuse, an outsider reaches out to Alena, the victim. He says, “They’ve allowed him to abuse you, and have somehow convinced you that you deserve it for provoking him. You poor girl.”
She tells him she knows things are different where he comes from, but in her home, they “live by the laws of Corvus.” It’s easy enough to frame her response as the natural one a victim might take, because she did not want someone’s pity. It’s the following exchange that gives me pause:
The outsider responds, “There’s such a thing as moral law…Don’t your people have a sense of right and wrong?”
She tells him, “A different one than your people have. That doesn’t automatically make ours inferior.”
I beg to differ. In this instance, yes, it does.
I don’t think it was the conscious intention of the author to invoke the sort of philosophy endorsed by White Supremacists and other racist groups, but any time someone suggests that the purity of a person’s blood is what makes them special, I cringe. It’s this sort of thinking that leads to bullying of classes of people and even genocides.
Genre fiction can be a lot of fun to read. Unfortunately, it hasn’t received enough pressure to examine the problematic tropes / philosophies it employs. I know it’s only fiction, but that doesn’t mean it can’t plant seeds in our minds. I want the leading ladies to demonstrate agency, abuse to be thoroughly reviled, and nascent racist ideologies to be stamped out.
If you decide you’d like to read this book, I strongly suggest ordering the omnibus edition, which contains all three books in the series. Blackbird ends abruptly. I wanted to understand what impact the characters’ fates had on the two parallel societies.
N.B. I received a free copy of the omnibus edition from NetGalley for an honest review.