The Feathered Bough by Stephen J. Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Books are books, except when they are performative grimoires, the sort of book that opens itself to the reader as the reader opens their soul to the book. This is one such grimoire, a ritual descent into a labyrinth of madness and memory, and the shutting out of memory. It is no mere mechanical work, however, being suffused with a spirit of both sympathy and vengeance, a human spirit.
I've made no bones about my love of Stephen J. Clark's fiction. Thus, I was pleased to see a sort of continuity here with his astounding novel In Delirium's Circle. A "sort of" continuity because the protagonist of The Feathered Bough has completely forgotten that he is the protagonist of In Delirium's Circle, or at least they share the same name. The twist here is that the traumas suffered in the first book lead to a willful disavowal of the person in the former by the (same) person in the latter. The man who has found The Feathered Bough wants nothing to do with the man who existed in his body, who looked through his eyes, In Delirium's Circle.
As with any work of fiction, that is merely one reader's interpretation. The wonder here is that, as a grimoire, different acolytes will be led to different forms of gnosis. Though the ritual is the same for all, the insight gained from its performance is keyed to each individual's experience, capacity, and need.
Regardless of your personal gnosis, however, we all descend into another world, exploring its dark, verdant caverns echoing with the caws of rooks and seething with shadows, until that world prolapses into our own, turning an escape-route from trauma into an explosion of such into this dimension. Reality, then, is turned inside-out, as above, so below.
The author helps this along by illustrating the work throughout in his signature artistic style, letting that other world seep deep into our own through our eyes, directly into our brains. It is at times sinister, at other times almost playful, but whatever the emotion evoked, the visualizations help to add yet another dimension to this darkened place.
This is a book-as-artifact that should not be missed. Zagava has bound this as a "tight" package, each part supporting the other. It is as immersive as a book can be without a soundtrack (though I do have a recommendation for that, as well). And while the subject matter may trend toward the esoteric, the book is readily available in paperback, numbered limited-edition hardback, or an absolutely stunning lettered edition. Whichever way you enter, tread carefully, and with eyes wide open.
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