Black Bird of the Gallows | Thoughts
Black Bird of the Gallows surprised me. As a paranormal romance, it is a bit outside my genre but I've been in a slump with fantasy so no better time to branch out. From the second or third page I knew I was going to like it...which is admittedly a big leap to assume so early on. But I did, because I was laughing at Meg Kassel's writing. Clever, well-written, and just the right amount of cheeky, I knew immediately I was going to have no problem finishing, whether I liked the story or not. Thankfully, I did really enjoy the story.
Black Bird has a low fantasy setting with nothing seeming out of the usual in a small Pennsylvanian mining town. There's no world-building needed, and we get the tone of our characters' social standing in the first few chapters. Not part of the popular crowd (and not unhappy about that fact in the least), Angie and friends spend their free time putting musical talents to good use at local clubs, while also keeping them hidden from teasing bullies at school. Nothing appears out of the norm from any other high school or small town, except growing hints towards the supernatural. Crows gathering and following Angie around, a strange man with shifting faces...In a contemporary setting where there are strict rules of reality, the slightest notion of something paranormal can make big splashes.
I enjoyed Angie's character even if I never felt completely attached to her. Though we meet a few characters, the story focuses mostly on Angie and Reece, the new boy who moved into a vacant house next door. Although slightly cliche, Reece is the epitome of a high-school jock, sized up by Angie instantly as popular and out of her league. The book is filled with many basic stereotypes; band members are unpopular geeks, sports players and pretty girls are mean-spirited bullies. Set aside any ruffled feathers that these are all standard molds for a high-school drama, and you'll enjoy the nod to music and disc-jockeying. We follow Angie on the journey to learn more about her mother's death and the reasons she is afraid to show more than just her friends who she really is. I go back and forth with the idea that she needed Reece's criticism and approval to ultimately come out of her shell, because in this day I'll be damned if you say any woman needs a man to succeed. But sometimes it doesn't have to be a man helping a woman, it can be just that you needed a friend to help push you past your comfort zone - which is what Reece does.
This is a romance, so nearly every scene hinders on some form of encounter with Angie and Reece. I didn't mind, especially as most of those scenes are tied neatly in with the advancement of paranormal activity. Perhaps I have just missed out on the creative idea of harbingers of death, but it's a unique twist in a YA world full of vampires, werewolves, and fae. Not to mention the Beekeepers...beings that take on the faces of their victims and spread a disease of madness? Delightfully creepy, and Reece is just the right amount of dark, without too much brooding. I was also pleased that big chunks of the story did not revolve around the typical "we can't be together" angst; if there were any brief thoughts of the like, they were quickly put aside in adopting a "live in the moment" mentality.
As I said earlier, the writing is what sold me from the beginning. I was reminded of Kendare Blake's writing style in Anna Dressed in Blood, with the camaraderie I felt to the group of friends and the laughs I had at the wit. The story is well-paced, with a steady flow of reveals and twists so I was never bored. There are some moments in dialogue that info-dumped slightly, but not to a point that interrupted the flow of conversation. I found no editing issues to dwell on, the plot is neat and the story wraps up cleanly. If it does conclude a little too nicely with all the ends coming together happily...well I don't mind that either in a YA world fond of ripping out our hearts. Now and then I need a standalone without the frustration of an unnecessary cliffhanger, and I loved how Black Bird of the Gallows ended, and ended well. That said, I could very well see Angie and Reece's story picking up to continue the hunt to end a curse, encountering even deadlier and older magic. I would go on the next adventure with them.