Welcome to my first review of 2015! Are we all rested after that 24 hour break? I am. I always get a nice early night on December 31st, but some hooligans in the area always think it’s funny to let off fireworks at midnight. Rapscallions!
I’m a great subscriber to the old exhortation to “start out as you mean to go on”, so to start the year I bring you a highly intriguing and very well-constructed anthology of short stories with a horrorish theme. A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters and the Macabre by DeAnna Knippling is a frightfully good collection of scary stories weaved into a larger narrative framework that in itself is positively unease-laden. Allow me to explain.
When Machado the crow and his flock save a young girl from the questionable magic-based antics of her mother, they drive out the cold by telling her stories. Admittedly, the stories aren’t necessarily what one would consider appropriate for children, but telling stories is part of the crows’ culture and this particular child has seen many things that would not be considered age-appropriate. When a mysterious monster known as the Crouga is released into the flock and begins to wreak murderous havoc, it signals the girl’s moment to take revenge on her mother. But the thing that her mother has unleashed may be stronger than even the Crouga – and even if the girl survives the damage her mother has wrought, will she ever be able to heal?
I have read quite a few short story anthologies and collections that are interwoven about a central narrative, but I have to say that this book is an extremely good example of the genre. Putting aside the content for a moment, Knippling has created a tight, thoughtfully constructed collection here that subtly links each story to the greater narrative and covers a great variety of horror-themed tales. There’s a nifty little zombie narrative, in which humans and the undead coexist in an uneasy sharing of geographical space, stories of changelings and fey interference in human affairs, tales of summoning what should not be summoned, particularly where revenge is involved and stories featuring objects imbued with a power not their own. I was surprised and impressed by first the number of stories included here, as well as their quality – while the content of some was a little beyond my horror-tolerance, they were all remarkably well written and engaging, something that is not always the case in longer anthologies.
As the subtitle suggests, there are seventeen short stories within the greater narrative and they are all quite hefty in themselves and therefore the reader won’t be left wanting in terms of reading time. Like I mentioned, some of the stories, especially toward the end became a bit too realistically violent for my tastes, but I suspect they will please more experienced horror-buffs than I.
I particularly enjoyed the characterisation given to the various crows, from the elders to the chicks, and the backstories that coloured both the stories the crows shared and their attitude to the unfolding monster-based crisis. Machado particularly had a very relatable voice and I enjoyed his musings between the short stories.
This was an out-of-the-box, quality find for me and I will no doubt end up seeking out some other examples of Knippling’s work in the future. If this tome is anything to go by, I will not be disappointed!
I received a copy of this title through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
Until next time,