Michael's Reviews > The Four Feathers

The Four Feathers by A.E.W. Mason
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's review
Apr 02, 12


For those of you who are expecting something as action packed as the movie starring Heath Ledger that bears the same name, you may want to brace for some disappointment in that respect. On the other hand, if you were intrigued by the characters and fascinated by the story and its conflicts, this book will far outstrip your expectations. Protagonists really aren't what they used to be. People are so cynical anymore that authors are afraid to make a stellar good guy for fear of ridicule. People don't believe in good guys anymore. They believe in well-intentioned guys; they believe in skilled, clever guys; they believe in people with either righteousness or competence, but usually not both. People tend to throw a fit at the idea of change, and that's nothing new, but we used to at least dream of overcoming our weaknesses and perfecting ourselves. We wanted to grow up to be Jonathan Harker, Sydney Carton, or Jean Valjean not because they started out as good strong men but because they rose up to become so. Now, we worry more about offending those who don't want to change. Yay, our hero triumphed because he was clever or lucky, but heaven forbid that he should do it because he overcame his own faults and weaknesses and lived up to an old-fashioned code of morals that lent him the discipline to see his task through to the end. People don't believe that anymore, and it's sad. It's not that it isn't true, mind you. Even Sun Tzu wrote of the incredible power of the moral standard, of heaven's blessing upon a man that lives rightly and its effect on the field of battle. Anyway, returning to the subject at hand, The Four Feathers is a remarkable book because of the characters and their strength. Each of the three main characters, Harry, Jack, and Ethne are confronted with enormous obstacles and even crushing mistakes, but each in their own way decides to make it right. Harry flees from his responsibilities, not for fear for his own life, but because he is convinced that he will fail and bring shame to his family and he chooses instead to face all the scorn and disgrace himself than to allow that failure to happen. With time he realizes that failure would not have been inevitable, but would have been based upon his own choices, not by some predetermined fate and that he had done wrong. He sets out to make that right, to redeem himself as it were. He leaves everything behind and puts himself in the deepest conflicts to give himself the opportunity to choose courage over cowardice even if it leads to his death. Jack is stricken with blindness while fulfilling his duty and loses everything that he hoped to attain, but he throws himself into becoming better for it and spurred by his misfortune becomes an incredible individual with an adeptness and strength of character greater than anything he had ever achieved with his sight. And then there's Ethne. Ethne is something special. I lack the skill of Mr. Mason and so will leave him to tell her story. I hope that you enjoy this book and its characters as much as I did.
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