Not Flesh Nor Feather (an Eden Moore story book 3) by Cheri Priest (book review).

May 2, 2014 | By | Reply More

Taken from the cover: ‘The disappearance of homeless men foraging through trash at night and nuisance skater kids rolling their boards along the planked piers were not note-worthy enough to delay the city’s development projects. But deep beneath the riverbank, the evidence of a terrible crime has been covered up twice. When a damn falters and the river swells, panic rises down-town. And as the Tennessee creeps over its banks, it dredges up death from its own polluted bed…’ The opening paragraph comes under the heading of Chapter 1, but to my mind it’s a separate wee beastie.

NorFleshNorFeather

‘Not Flesh Nor Feather’, the third and final novel in the ‘Eden Moore’ series opens with a short, Cassandran prologue that speaks of the demise of Chattanooga. I’m a little hazy on who delivers the pronouncement of watery doom, but I’ll assume it’s the eponymous heroine. Given the events of Hurricane Katrina a couple of years before the novel came out and the shameful response of state and federal government in the aftermath of the tragedy, I read the opening as not only referring to actual physical peril due to the flooded river, but as an acknowledgement of the spiritual degradation that disaster brings to both victims and those with the power to help them but who do not. These are real horrors wrought by man and nature which are echoed in the story. It also references key elements intrinsic to southern gothic: Rot and corruption and the overwhelming force of primordial nature that ultimately penetrates everything, including the souls of those who live within the shadow of ancient forests and on the edges tractless and labyrinthine swamps. From the outset, it’s clear that something is and perhaps always has been very wrong on many levels in Chattanooga. Anywho. Back to the fish.

The first chapter begins with Eden reminiscing about a terrifying incident that occurred in 1973, when her aunt and her mother almost drowned when the Tennessee River flooded, again foreshadowing the main, horrifying plot of the story. The young girls are monumentally stupid and almost pay the ultimate price. Claustrophobic and creepy, Cheri Priest is in her element when framing dramatic and frightening scene-setting action.

From there, we move forward to the present day. Despite her growing super-human powers, Eden is preparing to leave the home she shares with her aunt and uncle and strike out on her own. To this end, she has put a deposit down on a new development by the river…Y’all see where we’re going, right? And yes, the plot and how Eden is going to get drawn in is telegraphed, very much like a ‘Nancy Drew mystery’, but that didn’t bother me. Eden is a compelling character and I was more than happy to go along for the ride.

There is also a sub-plot involving Eden’s growing powers as a psychic and her bourgeoning super-human healing powers that would be the envy of many a mutant. The downside to all this is that ghosts can hurt her and every encounter with the supernatural leaves her extremely drained. This plot is woven into the narrative but the signal strength varied a little too much for me.

As with any good mystery, we’re presented with a growing number of seemingly unrelated events such as the disappearance of vagrants and kids on the fringes of society and an encounter with a violent poltergeist who has a hissy fit in a hotel. As with the previous book, Priest’s knowledge of local history and detailed research is in evidence. You walk the streets with Eden in the knowledge that they most likely exist and that, broadly at least, the historical events she refers to probably happened in some form. This grounds the story for me and adds a whole layer of realism that lifts the narrative far above your average supernatural mystery.

What jarred with me somewhat was the occasionally too lavish attention paid to the minutia of everyday life. I found my attention waning at times as the story, for me at least, almost ground to a halt. I felt that some of the description of mundane actions was not in of themselves valuable enough to interrupt the flow of the story. I honestly do not care that Eden flushed a toilet and it only partly took or rather at the time of reading. I didn’t care until, lulled and a little bored, something would happen which would shock me out of my reading cruiser mode and not horror, the story is laced with funny one-liners such as: “I felt like I’d slept on a duffle bag full of gnomes.” (p249)

We’ve all been there, which makes it funny and conveys the discomfort that connects us to the characters and the narrative. We’re right there with the protagonist which is exactly where Priest wants us to be when she gets out her gothic and smacks you upside your old brain with lines like:-

 “My spine crawled with a prickling dread, and the absolute silence of the room around me assured me that I wasn’t alone.

  God, at that last second when the face—when you could see the little girl’s face—and you could see the anger there, and the rage, and the pure hatred… it took my breath away. It was hideous and exquisite. It was malicious death and it was walking.” (p259)

Priest skilfully uses the prosaic to highlight the extraordinary. It doesn’t always work, but who wants a writer to play it safe? There were times when I found myself scrawling ‘Why?!’ and ‘No!’ in the margins with bloodied fingernails (everybody does that, right?) But when it worked, when out of the background some supernatural horror hit like a bucket of ice water down the back, it was mostly worth it.

Without adding spoilers, the story builds to a satisfying climax. It’s not a great surprise and perhaps falls a little short for the end of a trilogy, but I think that’s down to personal taste rather than a fault of the story. The narrative builds in parallel to the rising waters of the Tennessee and, in the end, we have closure and release as does Eden, to a degree. What I particularly like about the main character is that she isn’t particularly likeable. She isn’t a saint, reaching out to the dead. She’s not some fey, emo chick. She’s cranky, a little selfish and she taketh no shit from anyone, as you might expect from someone who not only sees dead people but who has almost been murdered on more than one occasion by members of her family. Eden is without a doubt the godchild of Buffy Summers and Nancy Drew, but she’s very real, as is her world and that is what adds piquancy to the flavour of this horror/mystery story. The end of the trilogy isn’t neatly tied up in ‘Not Flesh Nor Feathers’, not all questions are answered, which again adds depth and rounds out the creeping sense of unease that permeates the story. I’m sure that, like me, there are others who wouldn’t mind reading about Eden’s future exploits, because sure as eggs is eggs, a woman like Eden Moore wasn’t born to live a quiet life.

Karen Reay-Davies

@KTScribbles

April 2014

(pub: TOR/Forge. 361 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US), $17.25 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1310-2)

check out websites: www.tor-forge.com and http://wicked_wish/livejournal.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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