As someone who loves both birds and horror fiction, Ellen Datlow’s anthology Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales is one I just had to read.
Because they feed on carrion, crows are often associated with war and death. In some cultures, they’ve also been considered psychopomps that guide newly dead souls to the underworld. So it’s not surprising that many of the stories in this book feature crows and their relatives. Priya Sharma’s “The Crow Palace” is a chilling tale of family secrets centered around a huge bird feeder-like structure frequented by crows. Seanan McGuire’s “The Mathematical Inevitability of Corvids” uses an old nursery rhyme to tell a story of an outcast young woman. Fans of her Wayward Children series will recognize her talent for writing about children and teens who don’t quite fit in with those around them. Livia Llewellyn’s “The Acid Test” presents a being that has some characteristics of a crow, though as is typical for Llewellyn’s fiction, it’s actually something quite a bit weirder.
Some of my favorite stories, though, focus on birds that don’t have quite as sinister a reputation. Joyce Carol Oates’s “Great Blue Heron” is a powerful story of a grieving widow who develops an emotional bond with the titular bird. Stephen Graham Jones perfectly captures the narrative voice of a teenager in “Pigeon from Hell” and turns what should be the most unthreatening bird on the planet into an ominous omen. A.C. Wise’s “The Secret of Flight” is another tale featuring passerines—starlings, in this case. It uses false forms, a storytelling style I love, to document the eerie disappearances and accidents surrounding a play. In Pat Cadigan’s “A Little Bird Told Me,” a parrot is the star. This is a particularly creative story, putting one type of bird into a narrative role usually reserved for another type.Black Feathers is one of Datlow’s lesser-known anthologies, and it deserves a wider audience. The stories here pack a punch, and some linger in the imagination long after being read.