Source: publisher via Netgalley. Thank you Thomas Dunne for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Genre: YA magical realism.
For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.
Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.
I went into this story thinking it was a fantasy but was pleasantly surprised when I realised it’s actually better described as magical realism. I haven’t read many books in this genre, but one of my favourites of 2015 was The Accident Season (which I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about), which is a great mashup of magical realism and fairy stories.
Anyway, The Weight of Feathers is set in California about 30 years ago (?) and is a loose retelling of Romeo and Juliet, though the only real similarity is the enmity of the two families. The misunderstanding that brought along this feud is nearly forgotten and the younger generations don’t even know the specifics – they just keep hating each other because that’s how they were raised. I think this book makes an excellent point on the futility/danger of such hereditary hate – it is difficult to go against everything your family has taught you but sometimes your family might, in fact, be wrong.
Both families, the Palomas and the Corbeaus (if you’re unfamiliar with your bird lore, the first means “doves” and the second “crows”), are performers – the Corbeaus are former tightrope walkers and now stage their shows in trees, wearing magnificent wings that Cluck, the hero of our story, is charged with making and fixing. The Palomas perform in the lake – the girls of the clan dress up as mermaids and do some sort of synchronised swimming show. Lace Paloma has just earned her tail and is very proud to be part of the group. The only part I didn’t understand is why the Palomas were named after birds if they’re actually pretend-mermaids, but yeah, it’s not exactly a deal breaker.
The hate between the families is so deep that the Palomas believe that the touch of a Corbeau brings a terrible curse on the person. The Corbeaus have feathers growing underneath their hair (and Cluck is a runt because his feathers are tinged with red, not uniform black) and Paloma girls have a scaly birthmark that marks them as mermaids – it is said that a touch of a Corbeau feather will make those scales fall off (I KNOW, I’m making this sound way more confusing than it actually is). So when Lace finds a feather imprinted on her skin after Cluck saves her from a chemical accident, she’s banished from the family and set to roam alone (okay so this part was a bit weird). Not one to mope around, Lace infiltrates the Corbeau clan to return the feather to its owner – Cluck – but finds secrets and love instead.
What I liked most, perhaps, was this dreamy quality of the writing. It’s never clear exactly what’s going on, the magical aspects of the two families are half-myth, half-fact, and I would pay good money to be able to see those shows because they sound amazing.
Despite my minor complaints, this was a very enjoyable YA romance. I gave it bonus points for being a stand-alone because this world is littered with series that should have been single books. If you like stories about forbidden love and shy boys that include subtle magic, vintage cars, and mermaids, this might just be the book for you.
Have you read The Weight of Feathers? Does it sound like a book you might enjoy?
Do you have any favourite magical realism books? I’d like to explore the genre and need some recommendations.
I’d love to hear from you! :)