Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a little Southern Gothic, a little ghost story, a little voodoo, a little family curse.
As a young girl, Eden becomes acquainted with ghosts. Initially, it makes life pretty difficult, but as she grows older she realizes that the connection with the three ghostly sisters is both kinship and caring.
Eden is a mixed-race child, but that doesn't ever truly bother her. She is quite confident in that regard. In many ways, she is like any well-loved and well-adjusted child, having been raised and cared for by her beloved aunt and uncle.
However, while her racial identity causes no angst, the fact that Eden converses with ghosts presents a few difficult times in kindergarten and elementary school. The crazy cousin who tries to kill her would be much more distressing to most children that it was to young Eden, who handles the episode with aplomb.
From the young Eden about a new classmate:
" There was a new girl in my class. Her name was April, and she was from up North...Chicago, she said, and you knew it was true. You could hear it in her vowels, and in her almost audible sneer. She believed that the more snow you got for winter the smarter you were; and consequently, the hotter your summers the more likely it was you'd marry a cousin. By the time I met her, she was the most hated member of my class. This is not to say she had no friends; on the contrary, she was quite popular with the richer kids, for they envied her cosmopolitan air and her bizarre clothes, which she insisted were the veritable height of fashion. But make no mistake, they hated her too. They hated her for the reason we all did: she thought she was better than us, and we were afraid she was right."
The mystery portion involves the adult Eden searching for more information about her parentage (her aunt is strangely reluctant to be of much help), when it appears that her life may depend on the answers.
This was Priest's debut novel, and she has published several since this one. In Four and Twenty Blackbirds, she demonstrates a great sense of atmosphere and place, evoking images of sight, sound, and smell, especially in the outdoor settings. The characters could use a little more development and complexity, and parts of the supernatural element of the plot didn't work so well for me, but there were mysteries to be unraveled, and I certainly wanted the answers.
I liked Eden a great deal as a child, but found her adult version less appealing. The precocious young Eden's difficulties stimulated my interest; the grown-up Eden's purpose seemed more to keep the plot moving.
I will certainly be looking for Priest's more recent novels. It will be interesting to follow her career from this first novel through at least a few of her more recent publications, noting changes in style and technique.
R.I.P. book two
Fiction. Supernatural/Mystery. 2005. 285 pages.