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Book Review: Black Bird of the Gallows by Megan Kassel

***This book was reviewed via Chapter by Chapter Book Tours and via Netgalley

Black Bird of the Gallows, by Megan Kassel, is a haunting modern-day fable. Millennia ago, magic existed, a force to be reckoned with. It was purged from the land, though, and man’s memory of what was faded. Humans have such short memories. Magic still exists, in small pockets of being such as in the harbingers, and the Beekeepers, and in abilities like seership and mediumship. But for the most part, notions of magic are scoffed at and treated as fiction or delusion.

Reece Fernandez move into the ‘murder house’ next door to Angie Dovage. Her neighbors, a year plus ago, died in a terrible murder/suicide. The house stood vacant until the Fernandez’s moved in. Reece seems to be a perfectly lovely young man, but strange things accompany him. Ravens and crows surround the house, and flock around him. A man with a shifting face shadows him. And he fears bees in a way not even the allergic do.

As unlikely as Angie finds it, Reece takes an interest in her. But the closer Angie grows to Reece, the more she notices the strange and unusual. A crow with one White feather  a Shadows her, and leaves her little  trinkets. One night, as she is leaving her job as a DJ, the mysterious man with the shifting face accosts her. After witnessing an accident and Reece’s bizarre reaction to it, Angie pushes him for answers. Nothing could have prepared her for the truth.

Reece is a harbinger of death. Once human, but now cursed to sense impending death and feed off the energy released by it. Both his human family, and the crows, make up his harbinger family, and Reece, too, has a crow form. They move place to place, wherever the magic tells them disaster will strike. War, natural disasters, large industrial accidents all draw them.

The mysterious man is Rafette, the Beekeeper who follows Reece’s harbinger flock. Beekeepers were once human as well, warped by magic long ago and turned into hideous war weapons. Each has a hive of bees living inside them (Ew and wtf). These aren’t your average honeybees. To be stung by one is to go mad, but they only sting those already unstable and disposed towards violence. As the harbingers feed off of death energy, Beekeepers feed off of chaos energy. For each, it is a matter of necessity, not pleasure.

But this isn’t Angie’s first encounter with Rafette, and members of Reece’s flock. Why are they here now, and why were they a part of her past? Disaster is looming on the horizon. Angie, and Cadence itself, will not emerge unscathed.

Can we talk about this cover? Absolutely exquisite! The cover is what first drew me to this book. I love ravens, and purple, so there we go! It fit perfectly with the story within.  

I found the Beekeepers fascinating. Their history is so sad, as is that of the harbingers. Each created through magic as some sort of bizarre hybridisation. Each immortal or as good as. The harbingers can die, but ‘respawn’ (as Reece put it) as a crow. After a time they can shift back to a human form but is always at a younger age. This tickles the edge of my memory, but I cannot recall where I read something similar. Argh! The harbingers also called to mind stories of Mothman, and the Silver Bridge collapse. I must say, I do wish they would have just used harbinger, instead of tacking on ’of death’ so often. I got it after the first two or three times. Harbingers foretell death. No need to say ‘harbinger of death’ over and over.

I loved the duality of the story. Part is man vs nature, which I love. The cataclysm in this book struck a little too close to home for me. Now I’m going to make sure we stock up on shelter supplies! The conflict between Rafette and Reece was so sad. I cannot see Rafette as a villain for wanting to end an eternal torment, despite his means of attempting it. Despair and desperation are powerful motivators, and as for his chaos sowing… it’s what he was designed for. The bees only sting the already unbalanced, so just maybe, sometimes by driving certain people, like serial killers, out into the open earlier than they may otherwise have exposed themselves he actually saves lives. I do wonder, though, why bees? It seems hornets or wasps would be a more logical choice.

Black Bird of the Gallows is a beautiful, tragic tale of ancient forces in the modern world. To me, it is a reminder that we should be careful playing with our science, and stop to think how future generations might be affected by our follies and errors.

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