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Friday, January 11, 2013

The Four Feathers -- A Book Review

Well, hello everyone! It's been a really, really long time since I posted. But I'm here today with a review of a book by A. E. W. Mason: The Four Feathers. No, it's not a play on The Forefathers or anything. It is set in the late 19th century, when the British ruled much of the Soudan and Egypt. Harry Feversham comes from a long line of soldiers, stretching back to, apparently, the 1600s. Of course, Harry's father naturally expects that his son will follow in his footsteps and bring honor to the family name. But Harry is terrified of being a coward, and though he joins the army, when the call to arms comes he resigns his officer's commission, believing that no one will know the reason. Unfortunately, three men of his regiment find out and on the night of a ball to announce Harry's engagement to Ethne Eustace he receives three white feathers. When Ethne sees them, and he explains to her what has happened, she gives him back her engagement ring and adds a fourth feather from her fan. Harry leaves, determined not to come back to England until he has done one thing for each man that gave him a feather to prove himself and to atone for what everyone believes is his cowardice. In this way he hopes that Ethne, too, will take back her feather, though he tells her nothing about his plan.

I really loved this book. In fact, Mason's writing is several notches above the typical books you read written in the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds. He's not worried about spoonfeeding his audience, and he is willing to make things complicated without immediately explaining what is going on. Not only that, but his characters actually have character. They are very well-rounded. Ethne is a strong and courageous girl, but she has her weaknesses too, as becomes apparent. Harry, though the book isn't written from his perspective, is very well done as well. Even Harry's father, who might be the closest to a caricature in the book, does not act in exactly the way you might expect such a man to act when Harry informs him of the feathers and his resignation. Another thing I liked about this book is the romance. Both Harry and Ethne are fairly undemonstrative people, reserved and quiet. They feel deeply for each other, but they never kiss or pour out gushing flatteries and declarations of undying love. I like that. I like it a lot.
But perhaps my favorite part in the whole book is the section where Harry tries to rescue Captain Trench (who sent him one of the feathers) from the House of Stone in Omdurman. I don't want to give spoilers away, but the descriptions of everything are just fantastic. I was drawn in completely from first to last. One thing is certain: Mason definitely had a gift not just for telling a story, but for writing one. And The Four Feathers is not the only book where he proves this, though it may be the best. I may post a review of The Courtship of Morrice Buckler sometime soon, as well as other books by Mason as I read them. However, I give this book five stars out of five (with a warning: there are some instances of the use of 'God' in a way which is not reverent; but these are fortunately not too numerous).

I found this book for free on the Amazon Kindle store, and I thought I recognized the title because my dad had watched a movie which I vaguely remembered being called The White Feather. However, he had watched an old 1939 version which was called The Four Feathers, which he had liked. So I watched it. Let me warn you, if you want to watch the movie, READ THE BOOK FIRST. I am serious. Otherwise the movie won't make a whole lot of sense to you. Not only is it very shallow on the character side (the characters don't talk much and when they do, they are completely different from those in the books) but many of the names have been changed. For instance, in the movie, Ethne Eustace becomes Ethne Burroughs, and her brother (she doesn't have a brother in the book) is one of those that sends Harry a feather. Not only that, but every single one of the elderly British gentlemen look exactly the same. They hardly have enough screen time to become distinguished one from the other, they all wear exactly the same clothes and exactly the same mustache, and they all have exactly the same voice. There are a lot of problems with the movie, which annoys me because the book wouldn't have been hard to transcribe semi-faithfully to the screen. And the ending? The ending is S.T.U.P.I.D. And the big battles between the British and the Dervishes? They are just there to take up time which should have been used to develop the characters, because not one single battle takes place in the book. Seriously.