Fiction Reviews

The Black Feathers

(2023) Rebecca Netley, Michael Joseph, £18.99, hrdbk, 314pp, ISBN 978-0-241-53401-4


Where ghosts tread, black feathers fall…

When Annie marries widower Edward Stonehouse and arrives at Guardbridge, his estate on the Yorkshire moors, she thinks she has finally put darkness behind her.

She is mistaken…

Edward's sister, Iris, still lives in the family home. A taxidermist and medium, she urges Annie to watch out for black feathers – claiming that they mark the spot where a spirit has visited.

At first, Annie dismisses her warnings. But, before long, an eerie almost haunting feeling takes over her.

What exactly happened to Edward's first wife? Why is Iris so disturbed? And should Annie be watching for signs from the dead - or rather is she the one being watched?

The Black Feathers is the second novel from Rebecca Netley, following The Whistling which was set on a remote Scottish island. Here, Netley walks a similar gothic path in another remote setting, this time the bleak Yorkshire moors and the estate called Guardbridge which our heroine, Annie, arrives at in typical gothic fashion. By that I mean Annie’s descriptions of the bleakness and the otherness of her surroundings and the effect they have on her thoughts and her imagination.

Annie is there because she has married widower Edward Stonehouse, partly to escape the dire circumstances of her previous life and to get away from her family, particularly her violent and domineering father. Stonehouse, an artist, has lost his previous wife and their son and is set in his rather strange ways, probably not helped by living in a remote, rather strange, house which is dark, gloomy and in a state of disrepair.

However, if Annie thinks that Edward and his home are strange, wait until she meets his sister. Cue Iris, who is a taxidermist and medium. Annie has hardly settled in when Iris tells her to look out for black feathers being left by a restless spirit. Is Iris playing mind games with her, or do her words carry some truth, and if they do, who is this spirit and what do they want? Even worse, as Annie attends Iris’ monthly séances that take place on a full Moon, it seems obvious that Iris has some sort psychic ability and if Iris is a genuine medium, does she have the ability to uncover Annie’s secret which could destroy her new life. She has truly entered a whispering house of secrets, and perhaps the most deadliest secret of all is the real reason why Edward’s first wife and child died.

The Black Feathers is a slow burn of a gothic novel building up the atmosphere and dread and tension, using many of the established tropes of the form – remote location; creepy old house; enigmatic hero; strong-willed heroine; and a strange supporting character with their own agenda. It opens straight out of Rebecca with a short opening section before telling us we are Yorkshire in January in 1852 as we ease into the first of thirty-two chapters. Mainly told from Annie’s point of view as she encounters the twists and turns and revelations of living at Guardbridge with the Stonehouse family.

All in all, Netley adds her own seasoning to the standard gothic ingredients and allows them to simmer long enough to come up with a few unique flavours, serving up a novel that fans of the sub-genre will enjoy.

Ian Hunter


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