Edited by Rhonda Parrish
(World Weaver Press, July 2015)
Reviewed by Eric Kimminau
Corvidae is a family of birds with over 120 different species that contains the crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, and nutcrackers. They are known as the crow family, or, more technically, corvids. They are considered the most intelligent of the birds, and among the most intelligent of all animals, having demonstrated self-awareness and tool-making ability. Their total brain-to-body ratio is equal to that of great apes and only slightly lower than in humans. In words borrowed from Rhonda Parrish, what the authors have done with the stories in Corvidae has been to take a corvid-centric idea then tweak, shift and turn it upside down to create something different, something you’ve never seen before. What an amazing group of stories!
Immediately we jump into “Whistles and Trills” by Kat Otis, who takes us to World War II and the Swiss Alps in winter, where our heroine, Morgaine and her British pilot crash their plane near a derailed Nazi train. A corvid, possibly an Alpine clough, seeks Morgaine's assistance, helping her to escape the wreckage and then leading her to the train, where she discovers not only were the Nazi soldiers dead, but the train held captives, hundreds of other corvids trapped in row upon row of wooden cages in what was obviously a prisoner train. Morgaine rapidly works to free them all, making not only new friends but also the newest Ally in the war effort, her new found clough friend on her shoulder.
Next in flight we have “The Valravn” by Megan Fennell which begins with fourteen year-old Klara and her mother in a remote cottage hidden deep in the woods, suddenly surprised by an urgent rap upon their door during a terrible storm. What greets them is Rikard the Bard, a storyteller seeking shelter and hospitality. He begins to tell tales of the Valraven, a raven “like any other, though twice as clever and more ambitious by a score” that learns of the magic gained by eating the heart of a fallen King. That Rikard names the Valravn with Klara’s father's name is a powerful portent of things to come.
“A Mischief of Seven” by Leslie Van Zwol is another corvid-human transformational story that starts with a poem and ends with a legend forgotten.
It begins with a gruff Detective Pike called out of a drunken stupor to the scene of the gruesome murder of an eight year-old girl the night before Halloween. You rapidly sense he is not all that he appears, with the ability to smell death and to see and communicate with spirits. He soon realizes that the other fourteen murders committed that evening were all done by a serial killer. But this is no ordinary serial killer. It is a “Nachtkrapp,” or night raven, a mythical, giant, nocturnal raven that attacks at the stroke of midnight. In the end, “It feels like there’s another piece in the world: a piece added to a bigger puzzle. The world feels a little more whole, a little more right.”
“Visiting Hours” by Michael S. Pack is a truly depressing story of Lorraine and her tragically, hopelessly sick son, Chris. Lorraine has been tirelessly battling through the medical system as Chris’ struggle has progressed. The raven who occasionally appears outside his hospital room window is an interesting omen. Lorraine meets several members of another family. First is Faye, a young girl with a bad heart who tells Lorraine of her Granny, who told Faye that the Aurora Borealis is the gateway between worlds and that the ravens are the guides through the gateway for souls. Faye wishes the raven would come down to visit her. Lorraine then meets Anna, Faye’s mother. Finally, Lorraine meets Granny who asks a touching question regarding ravens leading souls through the nether gateway: “Would it be better to think they go alone into the next world?” Upon their next meeting, Lorraine tells the raven she is not yet ready for the winged guide to take her son. Though the raven then departed, she later discovered that it had come for another.
“The Rookery of Sainte-Mère-Église” by Tim Deal is another World War II related tale, of Birgit and her beau, Lucien, who had discovered an old German bunker with a sealed iron door. There were birds, rooks, who stayed near her home and the bunker, seeming to protect or watch over the site. One day she finds a silver US eagle uniform button that she believed may have been given to her by the birds. What happens next is a journey through time and discovery and release.
“The Cruelest Team Will Win” by Mike Allen is yet another corvid-human transformation story taken in an entirely new direction, pitting Leanne, a female blue jay who performs magical services, ridding places of evil spirits. She discovers that several recent cleansings were actually part of something much bigger and far more sinister, “a black widow the size of a house,” a Lilith, the Night Queen, “but she’s not that Lilith.” It becomes a story of agony and bliss, terror and euphoria.
“Raven No More” by Adria Laycraft begins with Sandra running from some kind of domestic violence, returning to the safe haven of her people. On recovery, she decides the tribal tattoo of a raven, her family totem, would protect and strengthen her. When “he” suddenly appears in her home town looking for her, she flees to a cabin on an island, reachable only via the water, and the mystic journey begins. “Every Nuu-Chah-Nulth child knew stories of Raven, creator and protector, but also trickster. She remembered, but in that moment she shrugged that knowledge aside and embraced a way to be free.” But Sandra's choice puts another at risk and she must return her gift for another, and her true power prevails.
“The Tell-Tale Heart of Existence” by Michael M. Rader is a wonderfully morbid tale reminiscient of the E.A. Poe classic of similar name. In this tale of terror and dread, a female plans and executes the elimination of Professor Dupain for his perceived slights and trespasses against her, only to have the steady cries of the jays, cruel and mocking, drive her steadily to her final end.
“Sanctuary,” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh, begins with Sophie, a “licensed wildlife rehabilitator,” discovering a handsome Asian man (Jun) knelt over an injured female black crow, Annabel, on the side of the road in heavy fog. She agrees to take Annabel back to the Bowman Wildlife Center to heal. Jun asks to help around the center and does well, but seems to require more than normal concentration to perform simple tasks. When it is discovered that Annabel’s injuries will take longer to heal than expected, together Sophie and Jun begin teaching her to count items. After many successes, Sophie secretly teaches the crow how to count people. On her first surprise test to show Jun the new “trick,” she asks Annabel to count Sophie and Jun. Annabel is adamant that only one person is present. What follows is a rapid turn from where one would think the story has led, to somewhere entirely unexpected. It made me seriously decide I had to get the upcoming Corvidae companion anthology, Scarecrow. I simply must know what comes next.
“Knife Collection, Blood Museum, Birds (Scarecrow Remix)” by Sara Puls is like no story I have ever read. Renee is a very troubled sixteen year-old girl with a penchant for knives. When she cuts herself, crows are released from the dripping blood. This is the most sexual of the stories so far, and truly marks itself as unique from all the other stories in the anthology.
“Flying the Coop” by M. L. D. Curelas is a futuristic tale of technology, transformation, smuggling, augmentation and magic. Hanna is a hungry smuggler seeking her next job in order to increase her meals to more than one per day. Before her stands a man with an augmented magpie, requesting to be smuggled out of the city—but there is a catch. The bird isn’t stolen, but she desires to “go someplace else.” Her previous owner is an inventor and wizard with a reputation for broken bones, amputations, burns and worse. While at first you believe that Hanna may not be on the right side of the law, sudden transformation leads to a change in fortune, though story events lead ultimately to a resolution leaving a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth.
“Bazyli Conjures a Blackbird” by Mark Rapacz seems to take place in Russia during the second or perhaps the first world war. The narrator in broken English tells a child, Kuba, of Bazyli a “special” magician who performed REAL magic, summoning and dismissing a fifteen-foot tall black bird on stage in front of crowds of soldiers, until one fateful performance his magic ends. The entire feel of this story took me out into the mud and dirt and grime and I felt as though I was at a carnival side show. The magic only lasts so long and it wasn’t the enemy who ended it.
Zinnia Carmichel and her associate, Miss Harris, were once explorers and adventurers for hire who sought unique creatures. Special creatures. And who owe the magpies, every magpie that crosses their path, their lives. In “Seven for a Secret” by Megan Engelhardt, the story begins when the adventurers are approached by Tobias Derry Davidson, a yam herder (a type of cattle) from Nhikavu, near Ba Van D’a, in the Southern Continents. He brings pictures of three massive birds, a massive iridescent feather, and tales of reported large flocks of smaller birds and asks them to find what is stealing his cattle. They accept, and upon arriving at Davidson's home, the women are told that at least one of the huge birds may have been more like a man with wings. That evening at dinner, Davidson relates a story of a neighboring family with a parcel of seven acres of land that he had not been able to buy or swindle away, to his consternation. It seems this may be the home of the flying beasts, the birds and the aviadam—the man bird. After private consultation with Marisole, the young girl servant, she agrees to take Zinnia and Harris into the jungle where they meet the beautiful, magnificent royal family, the king of the birds. A situation disrupts their visit and disaster strikes, changing them forever and providing a forceful reminder of just what respect means.
“Flight” by Angela Slatter tells the story of thirteen year-old Princess Emer on the eve of her fealty ceremony. On her first and only walk alone through the woods she is attacked by a raven, her palm pierced. In fear she returns to the palace and her transformation begins. By the following morning she has turned fully into a large raven-girl. She flees, shrinking to size, and joins a flock of ravens in flight to a far away stone castle, where she meets her Aunt—the witch, the Black Bride— surrounded by her animal slaves, the canine domestics, and the furred, fine, fat hares that had once been princes come to court. This fairytale with its princes and palaces, gifts and giants, secrets and spells, magic and mayhem was a wonderful end to this truly unique anthology.
I was repeatedly inspired and surprised at the uniqueness, the imagery, the wonder and the concepts of each of these stories. I yearned for each new story and dreaded each end, wanting each to continue and to reveal more of the characters in each tale. I can honestly say that each story fulfilled the editor's promise given in her Introduction. What the authors have done with the stories in Corvidae has been to tweak, shift and turn preconceptions upside down and truly create something different, something I have never read before. This truly has been an amazing group of stories!
Eric Kimminau is a BBS geek turned IT professional for a Fortune 10 global IT company. And now seeker of further Corvidae stories.
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