Feather Bound, by Sarah Raughley

Title: Feather Bound
Author: Sarah Raughley
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: 1st May 2014

FeatherBound-144dpiSometimes a book surprises me; mostly it’s always in a bad way. But Feather Bound, by Sarah Raughley, surprised the hell out of me by being not only a brave novel in so many ways, but also by being utterly stunning and completely honest to life. It’s rare that I read something as truly dark and honest as Feather Bound and the five-star rating is so well-deserved I can’t help but ramble on about this book to anyone who will listen—and anyone who won’t, for that matter!

Beneath the glittery façade that Feather Bound might present, lurks a darker undertone that nobody talks about. It is at once like homosexuality and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality, the prejudice and the frosty reception it can receive, all coupled with the shocking truth of both rape, abuse and sexual threat.

That sounds heavy. Honestly, if that were the cover copy, I might not have read it. I don’t read books that strive to convey a social or mental truth or insight into the human condition; I just don’t. But what I do read are fantasy and urban fantasy novels that wrap issues in layers of story and character, cushioning whatever point is being examined with a tapestry of prose that invites the reader into an almost-the-same world and delivers an engaging story before revealing, bit-by-by, casually and softly, the darkness that lurks beneath. That, I happen to love. It doesn’t shoe-horn anything; it doesn’t trigger or shock or point its finger.

But what it does do it create an expertly crafted tale that reads almost like a modern fairy tale that’s been taken and turned on its head, giving it a different purpose that subverts the expected but still dazzles and glitters in the light. That is Feather Bound. Raughley has written a modern, urban fairy tale that plays on so many of the small details expected from fairy tales and fables, and transformed them into something completely different.

It’s difficult to pour my heart into this review without extreme spoilers—so I won’t. I’ll hold back, somehow. (Honest: this is me holding back.)

When Deanna’s childhood friend returns from being dead—you know, something that happens every day—Dee isn’t sure she wants to reconnect with him. The son of a magazine mogul, Hyde has always been rich, famous and privileged. But now he’s very much alive and for years she missed him; she mourned him when she was just a kid. Coupled with the effects of the death of her mother, Dee is a little sensitive. There’s little chance that Hyde, however close they were as children, will find a way to break through her impenetrable armour. It’s not easy being the youngest of three sisters, when she’s neither the one who married rich nor the one who doesn’t give a shit.

But Dee does give a shit: maybe too much. She’s the one who has a job to try to help cover rent, the one who tries to take care of their drunk father, whose life has been on almost-shutdown since his wife died. Plus there’s no help coming from Erika’s rich husband, who controls the money like a miser counting pennies, always knowing what goes where. And none of it goes to help the Davis’ cover rent.

Yet Hyde always was oddly persistent and he might not give Dee a choice but to forgive him. When he talks about being away, something about him seems off—but what can Dee do when she’s still so mad and she never knows what’s true or not with Hyde? He always was a trickster, after all.

But one day, everything changes. It starts with pain and then fear. The denial comes next—but there’s no denying the feathers and what they mean. There is no denying that she is a swan. But with this sudden transformation comes a world of dangers that Dee hasn’t even entertained before. Suddenly she is something to be bought and sold, something to be coveted and owned, abused and hurt. Nobody ever reveals that they’re a swan, so how can Dee tell her family, or even Hyde?

But someone has found out and now Dee must do all she can to avoid both what she’s being blackmailed to do, and failing at the set task. If she does, she’ll be sold into swan slavery—and having seen first-hand just what a swan can be made to do, Dee will do anything to avoid being plunged into that sordid black market of rape and abuse.

Is it possible to do all this alone? And if not, who can she turn to after years of sealing herself away behind all the walls that she used to think kept her safe? Dee now finds herself alone and in need of help. With her world in tatters around her and a more tangled web of deception and darkness than she could ever imagine just out of reach, Dee will need to keep her feathers save, lest the same fate befalls her. Swans are for sale in this world, and Dee doesn’t want to end up as one of them.

This is a gorgeous, beautiful story that ticked so many of the boxes that I usually don’t even bother thinking about, because nobody ever even comes close to checking them off. Raughley is a dream in that she recognises that abuse isn’t something that happens exclusively to girls; that rape isn’t a solely-female problem. Both sexes can become swans and Raughley never lets the reader forget it. This is probably a more feminist book than any I’ve read in the past few years: this book recognises true equality. The kind that says boys get hurt and abused too. And I adored it.

Feather Bound is a shockingly twisted, delightfully dark story that wowed me from the start. The casual delivery of every issue is perfect and skilful. This story is about who you are and what the world makes you. It explores family and familial love. It subverts the image of the nuclear family and paints a fairly sad picture of real life, yet it is not as depressing as it should be, populated by rich and deep characters whose lives are spread bare on the page, under full scrutiny. This book demonstrates perfectly that nobody in your life is perfect—yet it also shows the sides of them you never see.

5-star copyThe darker undertone of this book is what got me: the raw truth and honesty of the approach sealed the deal, making Feather Bound so clever and delicious a novel that I want to hug it and squeeze it a little. I wasn’t expecting so…good a book. I was expecting a decent YA urban fantasy, a decent story. I was not expecting something so poignant.

But that’s precisely what I got. And damn is that a good deal.

If you don’t read Feather Bound for the gorgeously different notion of human swans and the glitz and glamour of the Upper East Side pitted against the honest grime of the poorer streets of Brooklyn, read it for the brave and deliriously tangled, twisted, tumultuous plotline threaded within and beneath the lines. This is how fairy tales should be written in the twenty-first century. And I’m all over them.


One thought on “Feather Bound, by Sarah Raughley

  1. I just downloaded this from NetGalley and now it looks as if I need to read it sooner than I expected, based on your review. I’m so excited about the idea of a girl who is a swan, it sounds unique. Thanks for such a thorough review, Leo!

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