Enough events to keep you engaged in the story. The ending is the best part. Really tells the story of being too smart for your own good. Would I read the book again? Probably not. But it was an okay read the first time around.
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.
My thanks to Flame Tree Press and NetGalley for providing an advance copy. I am under no obligation to review this book; I do so voluntarily.
Briella is a bright child, some would say gifted. That being said, she does have trouble making friends...
"Along with a loathing for personal hygiene and lack of friends, Briella had taken up lying. Much like her father, she wasn't really very good at it."
Briella's father, Tommy, was making an effort to be in her life, even though her mother, Marian had left him years ago and was now in a relationship with her step-father, Dean.
As if that's not complicated enough, one-day Briella befriends a raven on the way home from school. She names the bird Onyx, and this is when the wheels start to come off and things get more than a little strange.
Black Wings is a wonderful, real-life-like story with a touch of the fantastical. Wildly original. The challenging relationship between Briella and her mother was spot on, very believable. Black Wings is a story that is simple, yet elegant. Simultaneously charming and dangerous. Intriguing and entertaining, right up to the unbelievable ending. I loved it.
Published by Flame Tree Press, Black Wings is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio formats.
From the author's bio - Megan Hart has written in almost every genre of romantic fiction, including historical, contemporary, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, futuristic, fantasy and perhaps most notably, erotic. She also writes non-erotic fantasy and science fiction, as well as continuing to occasionally dabble in horror. Black Wings is one of the later.
BLACK WINGS is a totally engrossing psychological thriller, with implications for civilization's future. I identified with multiple characters (a rare event), including the focus character Briella, and her beleaguered but well-intentioned mother Marian. BLACK WINGS sets out on an intriguing, yet possible, premise; and becomes horrifying in its implacability. While many science-fiction stories cope with the "dangers" of Artificial Intelligence, BLACK WINGS examines the possibilities of a child with clearly genius-level intelligence, a child Stephen Hawking without adult maturity and stability, a child developing a wild and willful temperament to match the high intellectual capability. BLACK WINGS is a novel impossible to put down till the end.
I reviewed a digital ARC generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley at no cost, obligation, or remuneration. I opted to review this title.