When I was in college, I was waiting at the bus stop one day, minding my own business, when I was attacked by a crow for no reason that I can think of. Since then, I’ve always been more than wary of them. But humankind itself, has had a fascination with birds forever. The association of birds of prey and carrion eaters with darkness and death is obvious. Crows, in the Hindu tradition represent the souls of dead ancestors. Parsis have the tradition of the Tower of Silence.
There is something about birds that is otherworldly and creepy. Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales, is an anthology that picks up on our fascination with and subtle dread of birds. This is the second anthology edited by Ellen Datlow that I’ve had the pleasure to read, and it was thoroughly satisfying.
The sixteen stories in this anthology come from different writers with varied backgrounds and writing styles. Each of the stories then, stands out. While I always enjoy anthologies more than novels, Black Feathers was special because except for a couple of stories, I enjoyed them all. Even the ones that I didn’t like as much, had their merit -it is just a matter of personal taste that made them not for me.
The anthology begins with a very visceral poem, O Terrible Bird, by Sandra Kasturi, whih is dark and dangerous and just a little bit sad. It is a great opener! The Obscure Bird by Nicholas Royle, has a tinge of The Metamorphosis in its slow unraveling of a relationship under strain.Seanan McGuire’s The Mathematical Inevitability of Corvids is one of my favourites in this anthology. This hard to decsribe tale featuring a girl with an obsessive compulsive need to count corvids really shook me!
I thoroughly enjoyed Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts so I was really happy to see that a short story of his is part of this collection. In Something About Birds, he crafts a truly chilling narrative about a man interviewing his favourite author about his most famous story, who gets invited to a mysterious gathering hosted by that author. Great Blue Heron by the brilliant Joyce Carol Oates about a widow mourning for her husband, even as her dreams and more are taken over by a great blue heron, is a thoroughly satisfying read.
The Season of the Raptors by Richard Bowes is one of the stories that I didn’t really “get”. It seemed to end too abruptly, and I am not quite sure what actually happened. The Orphan Bird with it’s disturbing and unexpected twists is a great piece by Alison Littlewood. Another favourite of mine is The Murmurations of Vienna Von Drome, a mysetry about a cop investigating some serial-killings. It has some great edge of the seat moments and a satisfying ending. Blyth’s Secret another mystery about missing children, is chilling, creepy and a favourite.
Usman T. Malik’s The Fortune of Sparrows is a sorrowful tale filled with a dread that women from the Indian sub-continent can more than recognize. It is, for me, the most beautiful tale in this anthology. I really enjoyed the last story by Stephen Graham jones that I read (Lonegan’s Luck, part of the anthology Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror) and was delighted with his Pigeon from Hell which is a deliciously dark, brilliant and twisted tale. The Secret of Flight by A.C.Wise is another favourite. Told through exrepts from scripts for a play, letters and newspaper clippings, it is a sad and memorable tale.
Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring by M. John Harisson is a bizzare story about a woman who wants to fly. Unfortunately, I didn’t care much for it. A Little Bird Told Me by Pat Cadigan was interesting, with a witty MC, and while I enjoyed it, I felt it would have done better as a longer piece. The Acid Test is a has a very stream of consciousness vibe to it and reads like prose poetry, but unfortunately this made it difficult for me to focus and I didn’t enjoy it much. The closing story, The Crow Palace by Priya Sharma, is another favourite. It is brilliant and original!
Black Feathers succeeds in infusing the commonplace with creepiness. You’ll never look at birds the same way again.
Do you enjoy reading weird fiction? Have you read this anthology? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!
FTC disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.