Book Review: Feather and Bone by Gus Smith

feather and boneIn remote Newcastle hills, an ancient evil tricks locals, horror builds. Isabel talks to animals, not people. New age elements come up against old folklore. Modern agrarian problems oppose customs. Medicine and technology vie with home remedies. All are entwined with age-old issues of child abuse, poverty, homosexuality, retirement, and paparazzi.

Received from Clarion Publishing as part of the Librarything‘s July 2013 batch, and hadn’t read by February 2015, when I finally remembered to do so! So embarrassed!

This is set in 2001, a few years after a massive BSE outbreak that caused British beef to be banned from many countries across the world.  Footage appeared nightly on the news bulletins, showing swathes of cattle carcasses being burnt on pyres as whole herds were destroyed. A few years later, an outbreak of Foot and Mouth would bring many of the remaining farms to their knees, but that’s a while away yet.
In Northumberland, near the Scottish border, 7 Year old Isabel talks to birds, but not to people. Her 4 year old brother, Davie, is always in trouble. Their unemployed father, Angus, is having strange turns, and daren’t tell his wife (Bessie) who is facing her own issues.

Strange cattle have been let loose, with their identification labels cut off, and a new case of BSE has been confirmed.

Alison Rigg, from the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Farming (MAFF who are replaced by DEFRA not long after the real BSE outbreak), is sent to find out where the cattle are from. With the utmost discretion so as not to fuel BSE rumours, she has to track down any diseased cattle and have them slaughtered and safely disposed of. She comes up against Colin Fenwick, the local MAFF rep, who is stressed and weak when sober, but angry and lethal when drunk. Alison is having a long distance relationship with Stella, an actress, and both have an active belief in their own form of Paganism.

After being attacked by Colin whilst out driving one night, Alison ends up separated from her body, and spiritually inhabiting the cottage with Isabel and her family – only to witness some horrific and unexplainable events which seem to centre around the Duergar. The Duergar is an evil presence that has threatened the community for generations – Colin’s father jumping off a cliff when Colin was young being one example.

There seems to be a surprisingly large number of other inhabitants of the area (not exactly a village) – though I suspect there really aren’t that many. They are also feeling the effects of The Duergar, with many lethal and non-lethal injuries being incurred often graphically and painfully.

However, things dovetail into a climax that occurs both on the astral and physical plains and is as much about light and darkness. the physical and the spiritual as anything else.

Bessie is the most vile character in this, even if what she does is not necessarily of her own volition. Some of the men are weak (Angus being one), who run away to escape things, even if it leaves other characters in the firing line. Isabel is a natural in the supernatural world, listening rather than talking and learning things from the likes of Morag that help her temper her own powers as needed.

About this author

Feather and Bone is his only published adult novel to date, but his short stories appear in many magazines and anthologies. He also writes extensively for children as Gus Grenfell.

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