Book Review

When Two Feathers Fell From The Sky

When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky

  • Author: Margaret Verble
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: October 12, 2021
  • Publisher: Mariner Books

Thank you to BookishFirst for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: racism, alcoholism, trauma, death of animals, racist slurs, gore

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Louise Erdrich meets Karen Russell in this deliciously strange and daringly original novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Margaret Verble: set in 1926 Nashville, it follows a death-defying young Cherokee horse-diver who, with her companions from the Glendale Park Zoo, must get to the bottom of a mystery that spans centuries.

Two Feathers, a young Cherokee horse-diver on loan to Glendale Park Zoo from a Wild West Show, is determined to find her own way in the world. Two’s closest friend at Glendale is Hank Crawford, who loves horses almost as much as she does. He is part of a high-achieving, land-owning Black family. Neither Two nor Hank fits easily into the highly segregated society of 1920s Nashville.

When disaster strikes during one of Two’s shows, strange things start to happen at the park. Vestiges of the ancient past begin to surface, apparitions appear, and then the hippo falls mysteriously ill. at the same time, Two dodges her unsettling, lurking admirer and bonds with Clive, Glendale’s zookeeper and a World War I veteran, who is haunted — literally — by horrific memories of war. To get to the bottom of it, an eclectic cast of park performers, employees, and even the wealthy stakeholders must come together, making When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky an unforgettable and irresistible tale of exotic animals, lingering spirits, and unexpected friendship.

The premise is such an intriguing one. While I got the idea of what the writer was attempting to accomplish, it didn’t quite come across in the execution of the novel. Unfortunately, the story was bogged down by too many viewpoints and a somewhat clunky storytelling style and a very slow-moving storyline. It’s also highly character-driven, so that it took a really long time to make out the full shape of the plot.

As for the story itself, it addressed some heavy subjects. Racism, classism, the legacy of slavery, segregation, how indigenous people fit into society, and war trauma all play a role in the plot, and I thought they were addressed well. It was hard not to be outraged multiple times throughout the story on behalf of the characters of color and how society treated them. 

I liked Two Feathers (a stage name), although I got the sense that there was so much more to her character than what we saw. I would have loved to see her interact with more people in a genuine way, such as with her family. She clearly held back so much of herself with the vast majority of characters in Glendale, which spoke to her lack of trust in white people. But her own history and that of her people was discussed, and it’s totally understandable why she doesn’t trust white people — they’ve never given her any reason to. One of her main struggles is trying to find a place in a world that isn’t designed to make room for indigenous people:

“It boiled down to being herself and also making her way in a world built by whites. It would be difficult to do, but, really, she didn’t have any other options.”

There are elements of historical fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and even some romance in this story. I liked how they were all intertwined to make an intriguing narrative, even if it was exceptionally slow-moving. All of the different storylines combine  towards the end of the book, and I enjoyed seeing it all come together, even if the ending left me a bit unsatisfied and wanting … just more. But perhaps the thing that I liked most about this book was learning more about Cherokee beliefs and how they view the world. 

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