Thursday, November 01, 2007

Four and Twenty Blackbirds, by Cherie Priest

Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Cherie Priest
Tor: 2005

First off we will heap praise on the beautiful cover art for Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Heap. Heap. Now, about the book. Cherie Priest starts off her debut novel with a young girl in her first years of elementary school. Eden has to free draw something and as she explains to the teacher, the three grey figures are ghosts. Skip forward a few years and a few years again. The opening chapters of Four and Twenty Blackbirds give background on Eden, about what she sees, and about what other people know or suspect about her. About the young boy who tried to kill her, thinking she was somebody long dead. Skip forward a few more years when Eden is an adult but still living with her aunt in Chattanooga. This is when the main thrust of the story begins, though everything that came before is essential to who Eden is and what this is about. Eden Moore can see ghosts, her cousin believes that she is the reincarnation of some evil ancestor, the ghosts can see Eden, and Four and Twenty Blackbirds weaves family history, southern traditions, ghosts, horror, genealogy, a young woman discovering who she is, and people trying to keep things hidden so the hurt can’t get out. In short, Four and Twenty Blackbirds is one impressive debut.

Cherie Priest takes us from the mountains of eastern Tennessee to the swamps of Florida, with a stop in Georgia for good measure. These are locations, places that Priest brings to life. Through her description the city of Chattanooga becomes a real place and more than a dot on a map or a name on a sign. There is a sense of history and connection to the region. Having driven past Chattanooga to get to I-75 I recognized some of the names of the mountains and historic attractions, but Priest makes them sing. Somehow Cherie Priest also made the ghostly / supernatural aspect feel natural, though more than a little creepy. Eden’s fear and unease jumps off the page and lodges in the middle of the reader’s chest. Details are revealed in their own time, in a manner that perfectly fits the story. Four and Twenty Blackbirds lets the story spin out like a hot southern night. Slow and easy, but at a pace that works.

It is not until the near the conclusion of the novel that Four and Twenty hits anything that might be construed as a wrong note. When the big confrontation occurs things get a bit confused. What, exactly, is happening? How? Why? I felt disjointed in those last chapters. The actual events make sense in terms of Eden’s actions and what she experienced, but in terms of story the conclusion confused.

With that said, the whole of Four and Twenty Blackbirds was a beautiful, haunting (literally) novel that gave a definite sense of place and a strong lead character in Eden Moore. This is the sort of ghost story I want to read more of. Good thing there are two more Eden Moore novels.

Time to go find the next volume at the library.

Well worth my time, and yours.

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