The Weight of Feathers – Anna-Marie McLemore – St. Martin’s Press Thomas Dunne – Published 15 September 2015
For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.
Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.
A bird may love a fish, but where would they live? Reading The Weight of Feathers was like entering another world, part fantasy, part dream-like childhood holiday and part small-town romance, with just a tiny bit of Shakespearan Romeo and Juliet thrown in for good measure. And yet it felt like something out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was the perfect combination for an intriguing, magical and original novel. Absolutely breathtaking.
Lace Paloma knows that this summer spent in the Central Valley will be like the others that have gone before – performing in her family’s travelling mermaid show and avoiding the Corbeaus, the rival travelling performers who dance in the trees and whose touch is rumoured to burn and kill any Paloma who is stupid enough to get too close. But when the town’s chemical plant blows, Cluck, a young Corbeau, risks himself to rescue Lace. Determined to fight the curse she is sure Cluck has placed upon her with his touch, Lace inserts herself into the Corbeau family, risking both her own safety and Cluck’s, never dreaming she might fall for the boy whose own family taunts and hurts him and whose differences are what set him apart.
What a beautiful book. The writing in The Weight of Feathers is stunning and the visual imagery paints a vibrant picture of colourful mermaids that can dip and dart, and winged creatures that leap and twist through the tree branches. The story is told in alternating third-person chapters, focusing first on Lace and performing mermaids and the Paloma family, and then on Cluck and the tree-dancing world of the Corbeaus. The alternating chapters clearly show that the similarities between the Palomas and the Corbeaus are what make them so determined to prove their differences.
At first I wasn’t sure if this book was a realistic fantasy or just a contemporary story full of beautiful mystery, metaphors and superstition. And as you read you find all three, though I would have no problem placing it in the realistic fantasy category. The romance is the standout in this book. Sweet and charming, Cluck and Lace’s connection is forbidden and yet healing. They match in so many ways and compliment the other’s differences. The whole family rivalry thing conjures Romeo and Juliet themes, yet there is none of its cliché or story line. This is not a retelling, but something far more creative and original.
The wonderful addition of both Spanish and French language and culture adds a flair to this book. And there is plenty if it, with words in French or Spanish liberally appearing throughout each chapter. While I didn’t understand a lot of it I was able to keep up without resorting to Google Translate as the words are cleverly worked into sentences, so you can decipher their meanings, or followed with an explanatory sentence (but one that continues the story, rather than just being repetitive). The book never felt confusing or repetitive, but there was the occasional left-fielder which I just had to go and look up, like Malheureusement.
The language, culture, superstitions and backstory added layers upon layers of depth to this stunning book, and provides the most wonderful background to this story of love, family and magic. Definitely one of my favourite books of the year! Highly recommended.
The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Young adult fiction
Genre: Fantasy, realistic fantasy.
Themes: Magic, romance, love, family, superstitions, prejudice, abuse.
Reading Age guide: Ages 14 and up.
Advisory: Infrequent coarse language, s***, bas***d. Sexual undertones, no explicit details or references. Mature themes surrounding rape, no descriptions. Some descriptions of nudity (male and female top halves only). Violence, descriptions of fights.
Published: 15 September 2015 by St. Martin’s Press Thomas Dunne Books.
Format: Hardcover, ebook. 320 pages.