There’s expectation when picking up a collection edited by Ellen Datlow. Somewhere between a keen eye, a wealth of skill, and the much deserved praise that has authors dreaming of her nod, she amasses collections that seem, on the whole, nearly infallible.
Black Feathers is a masterful presentation of dark avian-themed shorts. From the jarring, owl-like turn of a head, to the blood-flecked beaks, to the sinister gifts left by all-seeing pigeons, to the replacement eggs hatched, different shades and volumes demanded responses while reading.
Joyce Carol Oates stirred chills and magic on the long, stem-like legs in Great Blue Heron. Reliably excellent. With Something About Birds, Paul Tremblay uses mystery and intrigue to lead the reader into a dark room before stripping the soul to accept an obsession fully. Jeffrey Ford offers a supernatural action mystery that plays something like the search for Jack the Ripper once taking flight on inherited wings. Mike O’Driscoll’s Blyth’s Secret tugs and pecks until there’s nothing left but a fleeting truth after the thick suspense has cleared a path. Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring by M. John Harrison uses vanity and beautification procedures pushed to limits and beyond in this hapless and foul (fowl) love story between a man and a woman and a woman with dreams of a different reflection and nature. Priya Sharma’s Crow Palace is yet another mystery inching toward the supernatural pool before jumping in to reveal its true nature with rounded characters and naturally tugging symptoms of existence that work toward the end goal of shock and awe. Stephen Graham Jones’ Pigeon from Hell is an unfolding work that mingles the mundane, with the horrid, with the fantastical and does so with a vivid and textured backdrop. The Orphan Bird by Alison Littlewood is pure terror, in the physical and the psychological. It is the space between a rock and a razor’s edge, flight and plummet.
Black Feathers is fifteen shorts and one poem. At its very worst, it is good, more often it’s great, at other times it is superb. Entertaining on numerous levels: endearing, suspenseful, beautiful, painful, incredible.