Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Feathered Man, by Jeremy de Quidt

First published in Australia in February 2013

Jeremy de Quidt's first children's novel, The Toymaker, blew me away when I first read it and quickly became one of my favourite children's books ever. The Feathered Man is much of the same - beautiful writing, mature ideas, grim and gritty action, memorable characters and an adventure story that rarely takes a breath for the whole length of the book.

I really enjoyed it; the only thing is the book is in that in-between stage of 'is it for teens or kids'? As an adventure story it's perfect, because I think it would completely suck kids in. The two lead characters, Klaus and Liesel, are compelling and easy to cheer on. De Quidt's pacing, his plot twists, the thrills and chills, and all his strange and wonderful characters are enthralling. But it is dark. A lot of the characters meet grizzly and often unfair deaths, and the writing is genuinely scary. I think many of the concepts about the after-life and the quasi-reality world Klaus slips into will also go over kid's heads.

In a nutshell, The Feathered Man is about a tooth-puller's boy called Klaus who lives in a German town. When his master goes to pull the teeth from a dead man at Frau Drecht's lodging house, he discovers a diamond, and steals it. But Frau Drecht and her beastly son want it for themselves. And a Jesuit priest and his Aztec companion want it for their own reasons. But so does the Professor of Anatomy and his protoge. Then there's the young girl, Liesel, who needs it to stay out of trouble. And then, of course, there's the Feathered Man who the whole mess revolves around. So who will get the diamond first?

As you can probably tell, De Quidt has a big cast of memorable, dastardly, unique characters. As in his first book, they are all gothic-inspired, and they all play a part in the chase for the diamond. De Quidt sure knows how to wring out menace and atmosphere. He is also an old hand (or maybe that's his editors!) at perfectly-placed chapter endings and openers - you will want to read on and on. The pacing is quite relentless, and this, combined with De Quidt's descriptions of the cold, inhospitable city, creates just the right amount of sinister atmosphere.

I thought The Feathered Man did not quite have the same emotional resonance as The Toymaker - some moments in that were so beautifully cold they were exquisite. But it is, even just on execution of such an imaginative concept, equally as stunning. I really don't know who to compare De Quidt's work with - he reminds me somewhat of the darker Grimm or H.C.Anderson fairytales. Darkly beautiful, and highly recommended.

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