Briella Blake has always been wicked smart. When she’s invited to attend a special school for gifted students, she finally has the chance to focus on a project that begins to consume her — the ability to recreate and save copies of a person’s entire set of memories. Her friendship with a raven that’s as smart as she is leads to conflict with her mother Marian, who is no longer able to deny that there’s something wrong with her child.
- Title: Black Wings
- Author: Megan Hart
- Cover Artists: Flame Tree Studio and Nik Keevil
- Publisher: Flame Tree Press
- ISBN: 1787581152
- Publication Date: February 14, 2019
- Content Warnings: ableism, animal abuse
I’d like to thank Flame Tree Press for providing a free copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The creepy kid subgenre is one of my absolute favorites in all of horrordom — sit me down in front of The Omen or Who Can Kill a Child? and I’m a happy girl — so I tore through this book like a baboon trying to get its hands on poor Lee Remick. I had to know what manner of evil was lurking behind the eyes of Briella, the ten-year-old genius/sociopath/creepy kid in question. Did I find out? Mostly. Black Wings falters a bit in the execution, but it is ultimately a disturbing and compelling examination of the horrors of motherhood.
We read the story from the perspective of Marian, Briella’s mother. Marian is stressed and exhausted from dealing with a preternaturally gifted child who also happens to be a bit of a jerk. Marian is struggling with feelings of shame and guilt, because while she loves Briella, she can’t honestly say that she likes her, and she feels like a failure as a mother for even thinking that. Marian believes that any personality flaws or social difficulties Briella is having are due to her own perceived maternal incompetence. I don’t have any kids myself, but author Megan Hart’s portrait of Marian’s parental doubt feels very well-drawn. Marian’s resulting competition with the supermom down the street (which takes place entirely inside her own head) is hilarious and is one of the few things I actually like about her, to be honest.
Another thing I like about Marian is her complete and utter distrust of birds. I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten on a bird’s bad side before, but I would not recommend it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: birds are evil, ill-tempered velociraptors of the sky, and they are not to be trifled with. Marian knows this deep in her bones, so she is immediately wary of Briella’s new friend Onyx, a huge raven whose unsettling intelligence and unnatural devotion to Briella throw up even more red flags for Marian about her increasingly odd child. Unfortunately, Marian’s hobbies include smoking, sniffing her husband’s armpits (don’t ask), and denial, so she doesn’t really act on her concerns about Onyx. But to be fair, there’s not much she can do. Birds are powerful enemies even when they’re not in league with demonspawn.
(Speaking of birds, I must commend Megan Hart for her Hitchcock shout-outs. Marian’s husband Dean mockingly calls her Tippi Hedren for hating Onyx so much, a reference to The Birds — not laughing so much now, are you, Dean? — and Marian’s first name is one letter away from matching that of Marion Crane, Janet Leigh’s character in Psycho.)
Soon after Onyx appears, terrible accidents and ominous events begin happening around Briella. Positioning the story from Marian’s perspective gives Hart the chance to ratchet up the tension, which is why I devoured the book so quickly: Briella is dishonest and secretive, so her mother (and therefore the reader as well) are kept in the dark as to her actions and motives. I was dying to know what this sinister little girl was really up to. There were times when I loved the suspense, but I also felt quite frustrated at times. Though I understand the reasons for it, the depths of Marian’s denial sometimes became too much for me to handle. The reader realizes when Briella is responsible for some act of sabotage or violence far sooner than Marian realizes it, and I occasionally found myself wishing for Hortense Daigle to show up and loudly accuse bad seed Briella of murder just so everything would finally come out into the open.
When we discover Briella’s true motives, it’s chilling, disturbing…and a little nonsensical. I’m not certain that Briella’s worldview hangs together coherently within the book’s internal logic, but then again I may be asking too much of a 10-year-old sociopathic mad scientist. Speaking of, I wasn’t surprised at Briella’s ableism — as I said above, she’s a jerk, so I’m not surprised that the pre-teen super-genius thinks anyone below her IQ level is subhuman — but it’s also pretty prevalent throughout the book from other characters, which did bother me. The “r” word is thrown around a lot (though it is challenged) and Marian wonders more than once if she wouldn’t be happier with a “normal,” “dumb” kid. There seems to be an implication at the end of the book that “dumb” people can’t be evil, which didn’t sit well with me at all.
If it feels like I’m pecking at this book like a buzzard, it’s not because I hated it, but because I was so excited by the concept that I wanted to absolutely love it. I enjoyed this read, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Despite my issues, though, Black Wings is a book that won’t let you put it down until you’ve finished the last page. The ending left me both satisfied and unsettled, which is a perfect way to walk away from a horror story.
I do love me some killer kids. I give this book 3.5 out of 5 coffins.