Birds are usually loved for their beauty and their song. They symbolize freedom, eternal life, the soul.
There’s definitely a dark side to the avian. Birds of prey sometimes kill other birds (the shrike), destroy other birds’ eggs (blue jays), and even have been known to kill small animals (the kea sometimes eats live lambs). And who isn’t disgusted by birds that eat the dead—vultures awaiting their next meal as the life blood flows from the dying. One of our greatest fears is of being eaten by vultures before we’re quite dead.
Is it any wonder that with so many interpretations of the avian, that the contributors herein are eager to be transformed or influenced by them? Included in Black Feathers are those obsessed by birds of one type or another. Do they want to become birds or just take on some of the “power” of birds? The presence or absence of birds portends the future. A grieving widow takes comfort in her majestic winged neighbors, who enable her to cope with a predatory relative. An isolated society of women relies on a bird to tell their fortunes. A silent young girl and her pet bird might be the only hope a detective has of tracking down a serial killer in a tourist town. A chatty parrot makes illegal deals with the dying. A troubled man lives in isolation with only one friend for company—a jackdaw.
In each of these fictions, you will encounter the dark resonance between the human and avian. You see in yourself the savagery of a predator, the shrewd stalking of a hunter, and you are lured by birds that speak human language, that make beautiful music, that cypher numbers, and seem to have a moral center. You wade into this feathered nightmare, and brave the horror of death, trading your safety and sanity for that which we all seek—the promise of flight.
Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales: An Anthology by Ellen Datlow
Publication Date: February 7, 2017 by Pegasus Books
Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, is one of the most unsettling movies I’ve ever seen. While perhaps I’ve always been alone in this, I find birds to be quite frightening (perhaps this goes back to being bitten by swans as a kid trying to feed seagulls at the beach – nasty bastards!!!).
Needless to say, when I saw the opportunity to read an entire anthology of short fiction based on birds, I jumped right on it. It seemed an interesting concept and something a bit different than the usual short story collections of horror that are generally published without any particular theme tying them together.
While it can be tough to absolutely love an entire collection of short fiction from various authors, this one was particularly hard to rate because there were an equal amount of stories that I loved to those that I just didn’t enjoy or understand. One piece of advice I would give to those who pick up this collection is to read only one or two stories at a time – because they are all avian-themed, I found it became a bit tiresome to read too much at once.
Despite only giving Black Feathers three stars, I still appreciated the creative twist on a horror anthology. The following stories are the ones that I really loved out of the bunch:
“The Obscure Bird” (a creepy tale revolving around the strained marriage of recent parents. I’m now officially freaked out by owls, thanks)
“The Orphan Bird” (super scary story involving a child murderer – the avian theme in this one felt particularly natural and not as abstract as some of the other stories)
“Blythe’s Secret” (the narrator reminded me of Norman Bates – loved the twist in this one too)
“Pigeon from Hell” (I apparently just love anything written by Stephen Graham Jones – this story was no exception. What I learned is that teenage girls are just as scary as everyone thinks they are)
Thank you, Netgalley and Pegasus Books for allowing me to read this collection in return for an honest review!