Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Review: 'Blackbird Summer' by E.M. Shotwell

New Adult and Young Adult genres mix in this late coming of age story. The protagonist, Tallulah, has a path laid out for her by her magical family, living in semi-secrecy in the rural south, but she, and the non-magical community, are set to buck the trend. This storyline would be typical for a young coming of age story, apart from the fact Tallulah is much older than most looking to fight against their family values and find love where she wants it.
Her romantic interest is likeable, attractive and not the obvious choice for the area she lives in. Being new to dating and in her early twenties, their relationship is unusual for this age group. She’s new to everything, curious and excited to get to know him better. Their kisses and care for each other felt genuine. However, the insistence on cutting away from the sex scenes often left me wondering if a sex scene took place, or not. It was a little too ambiguous in some scenes. Were they making out, interrupted by the next plot point before they could get any further in love making, or did they go the whole way? I still have little clue.
The main plot takes a group of these young magical people, including the protagonist, and pits their wits against a local danger, a person who has been attacking their magical community and inciting hatred in the non-magical nearby town. Their fight back is believable for a group of young adults, but I found myself asking questions: ‘why do they not talk to their parents’ and ‘what are the parents doing about all this?’ Very often it seemed the parents were happy to provoke the nearby town and ignore the issue of who was the perpetrator, upping the stakes and tension level without much logical reasoning. I felt to be more realistic, the parents needed to show a more active fight back, logically looking into who could have caused the attacks against them as well as hitting out at anyone that doesn’t like their community. In many places, it felt like the older generation were more than happy to accept their fate, or incite it.
That said, the mystery of the attacker was fairly well-kept. I guessed who they were about half way through the story and was proved correct, which is better than some murder mysteries. I felt a few more red herrings could have been used to truly disguise the attacker, but it wasn’t badly done, and I was gripped by the storyline until the very end, staying up late to finish the book.
I enjoyed the creative magical community which was created out in the sticks, and the new approach to magical ‘gifts’, with some I’d not heard of before. This rural community was well-built and had a real charm to it. I also found the climatic final scene within this community to be satisfying and enjoyable. There was more worry and pain than joy, but it was a realistic ending to the polarised feelings of those who could use magic and those who couldn’t.
In essence, this is a dark fantasy, coming of age tale. We see and hear of bombs, rape, murder, prejudice and violence against women. It’s all shown in context, but it’s the kind of dark human behaviour which we don’t usually see in a fantasy romance. It gives the story some extra punch, but it does mean I came away from the story feeling a little darker about the human race as a whole. If shades of grey are what you enjoy in your fiction, this book is for you. I, for one, look forward to a sequel, hopefully one with slightly less prejudice.

Editor's note: This article was originally published at Long and Short ReviewsIt has been republished with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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