The Last Feather by Shameez Patel Papathansiou
Flame Tree Press, pb, £12.95
Reviewed by Rym Kechacha
Cassia is a doctor who can’t figure out the mysterious illness that plagues her younger sister, a young woman mourning the sudden disappearance of her best friend and then an unwilling guest in another realm where life is very difficult but contains the answers to mysteries that have been bubbling away in her life for a long time.
I liked Cassia as a character, but I found little in the magical realm of Selene to like. I have always felt that portal fantasy should make you feel as though you want to start rummaging through wardrobes, wandering towards those shimmering patches of light in the woods, and slipping through those rusty-hinged doors in attics. There should, to my mind, be a glamour through that door that transcends its human rights abuses. Selene, where Cassia is taken, is populated by terrifying zombie-like creatures; awful people with a lot of power, ‘firsts’ and then everyone else, the ‘reborns’ who die in the mundane world and then are reborn with different magical powers and few rights. I’d prefer a tiny bit of light with the darkness, a bit of charisma to the world that makes even a small part of me want to be transported there myself.
The plot is action-packed, as Cassia fights against the clock and the limitations of the world to save her sister, but there were quite a few side quests which I found distracting, and sometimes I forgot what the wider mission was. I didn’t feel that the relationship between the sisters was established firmly enough before Cassia was whisked off for me to really get and feel the implications of her being trapped in Selene forever. I definitely think I may be in a minority of readers, but I would prefer a little more space to breathe in a story, a little more time to look around and enjoy the scenery.
I would also have liked a little more lingering on the relationships between the different characters in Selene, how it feels to live a second life far from everything you’ve come to know, how you get used to wielding magical powers and these kinds of quieter, internal questions. But if you like faster, tenser pacing with lots of high stakes, then you’ll enjoy the quests more than me.
The Last Feather is the first in a trilogy and this first volume hits that sweet spot of being skillfully finished and wrapping up in a satisfying way, while still leaving space for the wider story to be expanded within the world. There are a couple of hints that subsequent volumes will take us to other worlds and answer some questions about the links between worlds, which I for one would definitely like to see, even if I wouldn’t be keen to rush back to Selene itself.