Feather and Bone by Lazlo Strangolov

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Feather and Bone by Lazlo Strangolov

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Stefan Bachmann
Reviewed by Stefan Bachmann
Summary: A glance at Feather and Bone's striking illustrations, appealing front, and intriguing back may easily tempt you to pick it up. That is perfectly understandable. The marketing department did a thorough job here, and the book honestly does seem to have a lot of promise: it could have been a chilling, thrilling coming-of-age story. The sad truth is that it is tedious, forced and just generally unpleasant. One to leave where it lies.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 272 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 978-1406316605

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Kamil's father went into the woods one day and never came out again. Ever since then Kamil has done his best to care for his pining mother. He goes to pick up the weekly rations on which their little community survives. He tries to do well at school, even though Miss Milea, his teacher, appears constantly panic-stricken and is always covering her left hand. He also exercises the dog, Solace, every evening, running it through the very same woods his father vanished into. But one day, he strays too far and finds himself standing before the barb-wired fence of the Squawk Box, a poultry-processing plant that ought to have been closed down long ago. Only it isn't. In fact, it seems to be running as strong as ever. And it's not processing chickens anymore.

This book must have looked great on paper (so to say).. I can just imagine Lazlo Strangolov (or Matt Whymann as he is better known) pitching the idea to his editor, and his editor nodding and saying, A schoolmistress who is prone to loosing her fingers violently? How can I possibly refuse?

I know I thought it sounded great. It looked like just the sort of book I could adore: dark, a little bit quirky... and very scary. A real bone-chiller. I was looking forward to experiencing the dismal, unfriendly atmosphere of a vaguely communist community, to some jolts and stunning twists.

But then I started reading the thing. It is dark, I suppose. Most of the action takes place at night. As for quirky? No. Dismal and unfriendly atmosphere? No: Forced and unconvincing, more like. Stunning twists? Well, if you consider the old hero-saying-in-a-shocked-voice Oh, so you're the bad guy! a stunning twist than yes, definitely. It's full of them.

The problem with Feather and Bone is the author's writing. It's not at all bad, mind you. Just soulless. He writes as if following down the checklist of a writer's handbook. Everything from character development to the use of imagery is present in theory, but it's all strangely cold in its execution and thus fails to win the reader over. To give an example: apparently, Mr. Strangolov saw in his all-knowing handbook that the present tense makes for sense of urgency. Great! A children's book needs to have immediacy, right? Never mind that it feels completely wrong and out-of-place.

Furthermore, judging by the larger-than-life characters and the stilted, outmoded way in which they speak to each other, I believe the author was trying to make the whole thing slightly surreal. That would have been a smart move had he succeeded. A stark, dreamlike setting would have lent itself well to making the more ridiculous ideas more credible (like bunnies that... um, explode from time to time) and the more revolting plot-points more palatable (like... oh, never mind. Let's just say a certain very large someone, becomes very small. And numerous.) At this point I doubt I need to say he did not succeed.

To sum things up, Feather and Bone is simply below-average commercial fluff and sad waste of potential. It will only frighten very young readers, will only grip very gullible readers, and will only disgust vegetarians. Everyone else will be left with nothing to do but look at the illustrations. So it's a good thing that they are everything this book is not: namely creepy, evocative, and well-done.

Many thanks to Walker Books for sending this book, because I really do like the cover, and its vividly red spine will look nice peeping out from my bookshelf.

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket and Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley are very similar to this book in terms of slick presentation and topnotch artwork. However, any likenesses end there: content-wise they are far superior, the former sly and witty, the latter utterly chilling, both brimming with menace and foreboding. If you would like a children's book with some proper surreal atmosphere and emotional depth to boot, you might also want to check out The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.

Buy Feather and Bone by Lazlo Strangolov at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Feather and Bone by Lazlo Strangolov at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Feather and Bone by Lazlo Strangolov at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Feather and Bone by Lazlo Strangolov at Amazon.com.


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