Published by Strange Chemistry on May 6, 2014
Genres: Magical Realism
Source: eARC via NetGalley
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…
Feather Bound is a dark debut reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez's A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, and the twisted truth behind the fairy tale of Cinderella.
I have to admit, Strange Chemistry is one publisher I’ve yet to have a hit with despite trying and trying for a year and a half. The premises to so many of their novels sound amazing and practically scream my name, but something tends to go wrong and put me somewhere between DNF and meh. I’m happy to say Feather Bound not only broke this “curse” but broke my heart and made its way into my all-time favorites. This kind of novel is why I keep trying and trying with genres, publishers, and the like even when it looks like I should stop. This is one of the most powerful, beautiful, novels I’ve read this year.
Going in, I didn’t know Feather Bound is magical realism, but it definitely is. In it, roughly three percent of the population will become swans at some point in their lives, i.e. a cape of feathers will literally burst from their backs (typically sometime between the ages of ten and eighteen) and whoever possesses their feathers controls the swan unconditionally. Much to her horror, Deanna becomes a swan early in the novel and has a new set of problems to worry about like her feathers being taken from her by people who would sell her into the lucrative human trafficking industry.
Taking a swan’s feathers and using them to control the swan is rape and the novel is right about that as it also relates the literal act of rape that accompanies this enslavement of swans. Imagine someone holds the power to control you. Every night, you have to go to them no matter what. This might go on for years at a time and you have to do whatever they tell you even if it means having sex against your will. You could be sold into prostitution and with your handler in control of your feathers, there really is no escape.
Horrifying idea, no? This is the reality of swans and this is why they try so hard to keep their identities a secret. Raughley doesn’t just let us imagine it either; she outright takes us there and describes what these poor men and women go through without going into graphic detail to make it hit home that much more. Feather Bound is a very dark novel and anyone triggered by rape will want to tread cautiously. This short quote from a conversation between Deanna and one of her sisters highlights how this isn’t an issue just in their world but also in ours because of how familiar it is in conversations about rape, enslavement, and general oppression:
“You know, what I don’t really get about this whole Hedley thing is, if he really did steal his wife’s feathers, why didn’t she just say something? Like call the police or something? At the very least Shannon Dalhousie wouldn’t have had to flash her tits in front of a congregation of mourning millionaires. At least no so early in the morning.”
“I don’t think Hedley’s wife could have told anyone even if she wanted to…” (~7%)
I’m typically one to believe nothing is rape except for rape and we should be taking about actual issues like racism and rape instead of using aliens and swans as metaphors to talk about them, but Raughley makes it work so well I can’t apply my usual ideas here.
Beyond being powerful in all these ways, it’s an engrossing read too. I’m in the middle of finals prep (they start about a week from the time I write this review and everything is due right now) and yet Feather Bound is so good I spent an entire day reading it, losing a day I probably needed to write that 8-10 page paper on the intersection of gender and social class in The Great Gatsby. Worth it? ABSOLUTELY. At 304 pages, it’s a decent length too. Not a 240-something short book but not a lengthy novel either.
Above all, the relationships Deanna has with her love interest/childhood friend Hyde and her family are key. They are the reason she fights so hard for herself and doesn’t go the way of many an unfortunate swan. Even though Ericka is absent for most of the novel due to her marriage to a rich jerk and Ade rotates between lazy, superficial, and disdainful of wealth, they have each other’s backs and Ade is there for Deanna from the moment the feathers show themselves. Sisters like these are special.
Her romance is very low-key and not a central focus of the novel, but the way it is made clear Hyde’s fortune creates an imbalance of power between them is done very well. If his oodles of money compared to her near-poverty lifestyle and the way he showers her with gifts saw no challenge, there would have been a problem. As a couple, they’re pretty cute together and one development late in the novel makes me love them that much more. I can’t even talk about it. Nope, still can’t process. Just know I ship this ship like you wouldn’t believe.
Am I going to keep an eye out for whatever else Raughley publishes? You bet I am! This is an author who knows what she is doing and does it well. Until I hear of such news, I’ll simply have to keep going back to Feather Bound and cry intermittently. Oh, and start pushing this book on everyone I know and love who won’t be triggered by the subject matter.