By Sarah Raughley
Available now from Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
I was excited about FEATHER BOUND, a YA debut based on the Hagoromo/Crane Wife legend. After seeing several negative reviews, my excitement dimmed and it moved down in my TBR pile. But 48HBC, with its focus on diversity, pushed it back up toward the top.
The story begins with Deanna attending the funeral of an old family friend. She's mostly there out of obligation, but she does mourn the man's son, her best friend who died when he was ten. Cue the reveal that in Deanna's world some people are "swans" - they have feathers, which if stolen make them the slave of the one who takes them. And that old family friend enslaved his wife. Cue the second reveal that Hyde is still alive, taking over his father's company, and making some big changes to it as well.
Sarah Raughley's writing is fine and there are lots of good ideas in FEATHER BOUND. Through the metaphor of swans, Raughley addresses human trafficking, coming out, and several other issues. At the same time, that means those issues only get addressed shallowly. Deanna is only interested in keeping herself and those she loves free; she's not interested in ending slavery or campaigning for stricter protections or ending the stigma against being a swan. Much like a fairy tale, there is no explanation for the magical. Swans just are. FEATHER BOUND really requires the reader to buy in to the metaphor. I did, but I wished Raughley had the time to go deeper.
Deanna was a frustrating heroine. She's the type, as her sister points out, to refuse any help offered and then complain that she's all alone. Thus, Deanna tries to go at it alone in a desperate situation while ignoring people who could and would help. At the same time, it's easy to see why a confused, scared teenager would withdraw from the world as Deanna does.
I think fans of traditional fairy tale retellings will enjoy FEATHER BOUND. The world's rules serve the characters journey. It's not appropriate for most readers younger than twelve due to the sexual slavery angle, but it doesn't really have any other elements that play up the darkness of the premise. (Okay, I am now remembering that there is another strange sexual bit that is not for younger readers.) I did like that Deanna found her inner strength at the end.