The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore - 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. From Goodreads.
The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore has been absolutely raved about, and with the quote on the cover from Sabaa Tahir, saying it has "a fantastical world as captivating as that of The Night Circus," I knew I just had to read it. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of my favourite books, so any book that is compared to it is one I have to read. I'm so glad I bought The Weight of Feathers, as it's incredible.
The Palomas are a Latino family with scale birthmarks, who travel around with their mermaid show, putting on fantastical performances in water, with their brightly coloured tail costumes. Similarly, the Corbeaus are a French family of performers, who have feathers growing in their hair; formerly tightrope walkers, now they perform risky and dangerous balancing acts in the high branches of trees, with feathered peacock wings and fairy make-up, astounding the crowds. The two families have been rivals for generations, each believing the other has the magic of the devil flowing in their veins. The rivalry is violent and dangerous; brought up to believe a touch from one can kill the other, the only way to safely touch them is through fighting in order to keep their magic away.
Lace is a Paloma, new to the mermaid show, and has been brought up on the stories of the terrible things the Corbeaus have done, how they killed her great uncle, and she knows only fear and hate. Cluck is a Corbeau, who creates the beautiful wings the performers wear, and likewise has been brought up to believe in the Palomas are a danger to his family, and killed one of his cousins. Every year the two families arrive at the town of Almendro for it's annual festival, and do their best to keep out of each others way, and make sure the others don't come near them. When the town's chemical plant causes the clouds to rain down poison, Cluck comes across Lace as the water is burning through her clothes and skin. Not knowing she's a Paloma, he saves her life - and one of his feathers burns a scar into her arm. Lace has been touched by a Corbeau, a brand burned into her skin, and neither her nor Cluck's lives will remain the same.
Oh my god, this book is incredible! There is something about magical realism that is so beautiful; there's no explanation for the fantastic - the Corbeaus' feathers, the Palomas' scales - they just are, and are accepted by character and by reader, and the magic of the story always weaves itself around my heart. This is the second novel in the magical realism genre I've read, the first being The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, and although The Weight of Feathers has a more contemporary feel to it, I found the storytelling to be just as wonderful. I completely immersed myself in Lace and Cluck's tale, and I didn't want to come up for air.
At the head of each family is a strong, fierce woman. Each woman is more than the head of the family, they are dictators, in their word in law. For the Palomas, it is Lace's Abuela, her grandmother. Your place in the family is determined by how happy she is with you, and she doesn't bat an eyelid at telling you you're not pretty enough or slim enough, or you're simply not good enough. Every mermaid strives to get her approval. Her tongue is sharp, and she rules with an iron fist. I cannot begin to tell you how dispicable this woman is. Nicole, Cluck's mother, is the head of the Corbeau family, and she despises Cluck, and puts him down at every opportunity. Her other son, Dax, is the star of the show, and as she makes no bones about how much she is disgusted by Cluck, Dax makes sure Cluck does what's right for the family with his fist. Any slip up will bring a beating from Dax, and Nicole will over look it. No-one stands up for Cluck, or helps him. Many don't seem to care, or fear for their own place in the family. The only people who are kind to him are his cousin Eugenie, and his Pépère, his grandfather, who he is very close to and tries to emulate. Individually, each family is absolutely disgusting, but when their hate for each other is added, they become horrifying.
So it's a wonder that Lace and Cluck ever manage to feel anything for each other. I don't want to give any hints as to what happens after the chemical storm, because this is a story you very much should discover as you read it. But both characters are filled with superstition about and fear of the other's family, it's amazing that anything happens. But it's a wonderful Romeo and Juliet-esque story, where they overcome their differences, and learn that what they've been told doesn't matter when it comes to each other.
I was blown away by this incredible story, but I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by the climax. It was more of an anti-climax for me. With all the hate flying around through this story, I just thought there would have been more of an epic conflict at the end. But there's also so much beauty in the ending, and in the actions taken by Lace and Cluck, I can forgive the slight disappointment.
The Weight of Feathers is an epic love story full of beauty and magic, and left me full of wonder. With this fantastic debut novel, McLemore has definitely become one to much. I cannot wait for her second novel, When the Moon Was Ours.
Published: 15th September 2015
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Anna-Marie McLemore's Website