REVIEW: The Dark Feather by Anna Stephens

The Dark Feather by Anna Stephens is the epic third and final book in her The Songs of the Drowned trilogy. Fans of Stephens are also likely to know her writing from the Godblind trilogy. The earlier two novels in The Songs of the Drowned, The Stone Knife and The Jaguar Path, are essential pre-reading before you commence The Dark Feather. I suggest rereading them, as the events in The Dark Feather are not summarised before the novel begins. Stephens jumps into the action, with the plot picking up a few weeks after the finale of The Jaguar Path. If you are a reader awaiting the release of The Dark Feather, you will find it to be a complex, compelling, and entirely satisfying conclusion to the series.

Cover of The Dark FeatherThe long-planned slave rebellion has finally come to the Empire of Songs. Bitterly clinging on for control from the Great Pyramid in the Singing City, Tayan, the Shadow Singer, is pitted against his former friends and family. As well as defending against the battle raging outside the pyramid’s walls, Tayan must decide where his loyalties lie and whether he will side with his home or the seduction powers within the Song. Out on the streets of the Singing City, Xessa, Lilla, and Ekon are critical players in a guerilla campaign. At first, united in the cause of trying to silence the Song, their rebellion becomes more desperate over time, and divisions appear. It might cost them more than their lives to carry on. The final main character, Illandeh, a former spy, far to the north and out from under the Song’s power, has a decision to make – her freedom or returning to the Singer’s regime.

Stephens’ The Dark Feather continues the same engaging and intricate style I enjoyed in the previous novels in the trilogy. Moving between perspectives inside the Great Pyramid, out in the rebellion, and away in the north, the reader can see the impact of the events in The Dark Feather from many points of view and follow the shifting loyalties. The chapters are long and detailed, so this read requires concentration; it should not be considered a light or easy read in that respect. As a relatively slow reader and often unable to read every day, I found it challenging to settle into the story and become as immersed as I wanted. In hindsight, I
should have started The Dark Feather when I had more time to dedicate to it rather than attempting to dip in and out over a few weeks of smaller reading sessions. With the interconnected politics, faiths, and magic, Stephens’ detailed world deserved more attention than I could sometimes give.

The Dark Feather is also enjoyably unpredictable, and even after two novels of forming character relationships and worldbuilding, I was continually surprised by the events and character responses. Stephens’ writing is intense and emotional – I was dismayed by some of the events and jubilant at others; I mourned the losses and cheered the victories. The battles in The Dark Feather particularly stand out as well-written and engaging. At the same time, amid the actions and the ongoing consequences that Stephens later refers to (for example, a character continuing to limp after a leg wound, rather than it seems like they have never been injured mere pages on).

The reader also gets to follow the characters’ developments across the trilogy, and Stephens’ characters are detailed and nuanced. They make this novel, and the others, such a good read. In The Dark Feather, it is not as simple as the goodies vs the badies. Stephens manages to create sympathy for characters even while they commit atrocities and show moments of joy and love even when they are surrounded by death and destruction. It is a delicate balance in dark fantasy to craft a novel with just the right amount of light, along with the brutalities of war. Stephens has managed this superbly.

The Dark Feather is out now from Harper Voyager, and I am very grateful to Anna Stephens and the team at Harper Voyager for sending me a copy to review.

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Fiona Denton

Fiona Denton

Fiona is a former secondary school teacher and current stay at home parent to two very wild and active children. She lives with them and her husband in the UK and can often be found on a beach paddling in the North Sea or stomping through a forest with the sprogs and hounds. She loves to read and has always enjoyed fantasy novels, particularly the very dark and twisty ones with mythical creatures.

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