The Crow Talker (Ferals #1)
The Swarm Descends (Ferals #2)

Author: Jacob Grey
Publisher: Harper Collins Childrens Books

Meet Caw, a 13-year-old boy living alone in the city of Blackstone. With only dreams to guide him about his past, and the awful memory of the night his life changed, he raids dumpsters for food and keeps to the shadows, like many people living in the streets.

Unlike other people living on the streets, however, Caw is a “feral”. He has a secret ability: he can talk to crows, and they talk back.

In The Crow Talker, the first book of the Ferals series, Blackstone is still recovering from the events of the Dark Summer eight years ago, when a wave of crime and violence swept through the city. Orchestrated by the evil feral known as the Spinning Man, the Dark Summer destroyed lives. He was defeated by the ferals who opposed him, but his influence still remains years later.

A jailbreak at the prison forces Caw into contact with others like him, but these ferals use their ability for evil and plan to bring the Spinning Man back to power. Together with his loyal crows and new friend Lydia, Caw must work with the good ferals to defeat the Spinning Man and his followers.

The Crow Talker was a surprisingly easy read. Author Jacob Grey has done a really good job of bringing not just the abilities of the ferals to life, but the characters themselves. Caw is a lost boy, and at 13, struggling with his abilities and the mysteries of his past. Lydia is the complete opposite – she’s sure of herself and persistent in her desire to become Caws’ friend. The premise of the story, although somewhat dated – young boy discovers that he has the ability to save the world, good versus evil, etc – is engaging, and this is because of Caw and his crows, Glum, Screech, and Milky.

Although a bit darker than one would expect from a book for teens and tweens (spoiler alert: there are deaths), it is this darkness that forces Caw to be the hero Blackstone deserves, and that ultimately allows good to triumph.

In The Swarm Descends, Caw, Lydia and their friends have defeated the Spinning Man, allowing Caw to spend time with his crows and training with fellow ferals Crumb and Pip.

He has found peace with his past and is looking forward to the future. But a chance encounter with a strange, pale man thrusts Caw back into danger. This time, it’s the Mother of Flies, and in order to put her villainous plans into motion, she needs something that Caw has, a magical burden placed in the hands of the Crow feral family for generations. Caw must use everything he has learned, and dig deep to find his courage to defeat this new enemy and her plan to destroy everything the ferals have ever known.

Second books, like sequels to blockbuster movies, tend to seem a lot like fillers – a stepping stone to the finale. Luckily, Grey has skillfully woven a tale separate from, yet not entirely unlinked to, The Crow Talker. There seems to be two storylines going on throughout the book, and both kept me turning the pages. The dominant narrative is how the Mother of Flies seeks to take revenge on the surviving good ferals and simultaneously create her own coterie of ferals. The second, more sublte storyline is that there is a bigger evil coming to Blackstone, and Caw and his friends must be ready to face it.

The introduction of a new character into Caw’s circle of trust comes practically on the heels of the death of an old friend. Selina, a seemingly homeless runaway crashes in Caw’s old house and when Caw discovers her, becomes his friend. While Lydia and the other ferals have their reservations, Caw stands by her.

By now, Caw is no longer the scared boy of the previous book. He has saved Blackstone and he is now a hero. But it was refreshing to see how he still doubted himself, especially when his family secret is revealed and his trust (given rather easily), is betrayed. But these simple character flaws are what makes the book an interesting read – Caw’s naiveté, Lydia’s jealousy, Selina’s desperate need to prove herself, Crumb and Pip’s desire to keep Caw safe. These are all part of what makes the story engaging.

There are moments in the books where one needs to suspend disbelief. Such as how easily Caw can access the abilities that even the strongest of the ferals couldn’t get to after years of trying.

But these are issues an adult would pick at – and ideas that most teens would embrace.