Priest, Cherie: Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Eden Moore 1) (2003)

Book design by Nicole de las Heras
Book design by Nicole de las Heras

“Hey,” I said, not to greet her but to get her attention. “Hey.”
Her eyes rolled to meet mine.
She opened her mouth but did not yet speak. Instead it seemed
every sound in the forest was pulled inside her gasping lungs and I was standing in the vacuum. I knew my friends were only yards away but I did not hear their small, fast feet shuffling through the undergrowth. No birds sang and no squirrels knocked winter nuts down into empty trees. Even the shadows stopped crawling across the rocks as the sky held the clouds above in place.
My breath snagged in my throat and refused to leave my chest.
Tears came to the woman’s eyes and dripped to the forest floor
unchecked. Her head swiveled slowly, looking past her left shoulder and then her right. Her choked, thin voice cried out to the others.
Willa, Luanna—she’s over here.
Two other women appeared, one on either side of her. They had
the same vaguely African features as the first, with hair bound into submission by scarves tied in loose knots. Their faces might have been round once, but their skin was drawn back and their wide cheekbones made shelves that shadowed their hollow jaws. Their teeth were exaggerated by fleshy lips robbed of their firmness, and when they spoke to one another it was a terrible sight.
There she is, his darling one.
His pretty one.
Oh, Mae, she’s returned to you. She’s returned to us.
Mae crouched low to examine me with her enormous, brimming
eyes. My baby, she said, reaching one scrawny arm to my face. Mybaby. Miabella.

Who wants to live forever? Not I. Some people do and this greed is explored in the story about Eden Moore, her convoluted family tree and ghostly followers.

In Four and Twenty Blackbirds the John Gray death-cult uses a dark combination of Songhaien Sorko lore and Seminole lore to bring their founder back to life. Somehow John Gray is tied to young Eden, who we meet for the first time when she is five.

Five years old, Eden hears her three ghostly followers speak for the first time with the words in the quote above. As a child, I had no concept of dead or alive, and I imagine my reaction would have been much as Eden’s was. She was used to these women. They were different to other women, but, you know, people! As she grew older, she realized that others considered Eden a bit of an oddity. Apparently, at least until her first time at camp, no other person she met saw what she now understood were ghosts.

Cherie Priest is not afraid to tackle serious issues. One of the most serious issues in Southern USA is racism. As a child, I was bullied a lot. So, to some extent, I can imagine what it must have been like for Eden to be bullied for something she had no control over. Some of her class-mates and her pale faced relatives were horrible and on one occasion a co-student made it really simple for Eden to break the rules.

“You guys who aren’t all white and aren’t all black. You’re not anything except the worst mix of a bad lot, and it don’t surprise my dad at all that a family like yours would have something crazy like this going on.”

Auntie Lulu, Eden’s adopted mother and aunt, keeps the truth of Eden’s ancestry from her in an attempt to shield her. Being the last to know does not make for a happy Eden.  But Eden must wait until she is old enough to search for the truth on her own.

Works well as a stand-alone, but is part of a series. Definitely recommended. I had trouble putting it down.


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Four and Twenty Blackbirds may be found at McMillan

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