Saturday, 17 May 2014

Feather Bound by Sarah Raughley

Feather Bound by Sarah Raughley is the author's début novel. I went into it with no expectations beyond title and cover thumbnail (if I ever read the blurb before writing this review, I have no memory of it) and I was pleasantly surprised. By the end of the first chapter, Feather Bound had me hooked with its surprising revelation of the premise (which, OK, not surprising if you read the blurb, but it was still well-executed).
When Deanna's missing friend Hyde turns up at his father's funeral to claim his corporate empire and inheritance, she is swept into his glittering world of paparazzi and wealth.

But re-kindling her friendship and the dizzying new emotions along for the ride are the least of her concerns. Because Deanna has a secret - and somebody knows. Someone who is out to get Hyde. And if she doesn't play along, and help the enemy destroy him...she will be sold to the highest bidder in the black market for human swans.

Now Deanna is struggling to break free from the gilded cage that would trap her forever...
In this story, some people are swans. It's not genetic, but it is something that usually becomes apparent roughly during puberty. They don't turn into birds or anything, they just grow a cloak of feathers on their backs. And if a swan's feathers are stolen, the thief gets complete control over the swan, making them a slave in the most literal sense.

We learn very early on that Deanna sympathises with swans and is against swan slavery (and, alarmingly, that not everyone is). It seems almost inevitable when, early on, Deanna finds herself sprouting feathers for the first time. But that's only the start of her problems. Not only does her freedom depend on keeping her secret, but she very quickly has to contend with threats because of it. I don't want to go into too much detail because spoilers, but suffice to say the existence of swans makes for a lucrative and prevalent human trafficking market. I did like the way in which Raughley used swans to highlight the horrors of human trafficking and sex-slavery.

I also liked how the worldbuilding was more than just a surface layer. Every now and then there are historical references which mention how swans have been treated and societal attitudes towards them through the ages. It was nice to see that the author had given this some thought and hadn't, for example, just made it a modern phenomenon.

Finally, I liked that there were lots of female characters. The main characters were overwhelmingly Deanna and Hyde, but Deanna's sisters, especially Ade who witnesses her first swan transformation, plays and important role as well. The only other male character's are Hyde's cousin, who's a terrible person, and Deanna's father who is an alcoholic that doesn't do much more (story-wise) than exist. Even the miscellaneous swan activists were all female. It was nice to see.

The only thing I didn't like, really, was that Deanna was a bit slow at working out certain plot twists which I'd guessed much earlier. But even this wasn't as bad as it could have been. She figured it out only a chapter later than I had wanted her too, so my frustration was relatively short-lived.

Although Feather Bound is a YA book and Deanna is 17, it doesn't deal with a lot of common YA issues, at least not the sort that tend to pop up in paranormal YA. There's no school for example (I think because it takes place over summer) and Deanna and her family are relatively poor, living in Brooklyn and with the daughters having to work to pay the bills. That is strongly juxtaposed against the wealth of the other characters (particularly Hyde and the oldest sister's husband) and the society parties that Deanna keeps finding herself at.

Feather Bound was a surprising and good read. I was impressed with the way it dealt with its issues and I'm glad I picked it up. I recommend it to all fans of paranormal YA and, for that matter, contemporary YA (since the feather thing can easily be taken as a metaphor). I highly recommend it to all fans of YA and contemporary stories with fairytale roots.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2014, Strange Chemistry
Series: I don't think so, but there's room for a sequel...
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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