Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest

Title: Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher: Tor, 2005

Stories set in America’s South always have a way of gripping me viscerally. I don’t know whether it’s a combination of the history or the mystery, or it’s a bit of both. This is the first novel by Cherie Priest that I’ve read, and I’ve definitely fallen in love with her voice, and will go on to read more of her works.

Eden’s always seen ghosts, and we follow her progress as she’s raised by her aunt, and her family life is far from simple. There’s a larger mystery in the picture, but Eden’s got a fair amount of delving to do before she uncovers all the secrets, even if it means traipsing through abandoned buildings or visiting forbidding relatives, with a murderous sibling on her trail.

I don’t want to give too much away. Essentially, this is a haunted tale of dark magic and a frightening inheritance. Priest hints at secrets that are never fully explained, which I absolutely love, because she allows readers to wonder. Her descriptions are lush, and I could feel the oppressive heat and smell the oozing rot of the swamp. Characters are deliciously ambiguous, neither wholly good or bad, though I have to admit that the primary antagonist sent delicious shivers down my spine.

To a degree it can be said that the story is slow-moving, but that didn’t bother me because I have a great love of tales that take their time to make me feel as though I’ve been wholly immersed in a particular world. Priest does very well in establishing a sense of place, which my inner travel writer totally appreciates.

Also, what stood out for me was Priest’s action sequences. She makes the combat scenes jump into vivid life with a ring of authenticity. Characters stumble and fumble, and there are consequences to their actions. If you’re looking for a story with a more than healthy dollop of voodoo, and well-realised non-Caucasian characters then give this one a shot.

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