Things with Feathers: Stories of Hope, edited by Juliana Rew

Things with Feathers: Stories of Hope

Edited by

Juliana Rew

(Third Flatiron Publishing, October 2021, pb., 248 pp.)

“Dream Eater” by Nemma Wollenfang

“The Soul of Trees” by Emily Dauvin

“Adventures in the Spiritual Lost-and-Found” by Paula Hammond

“Elf Magic” by Barton Paul Levenson

“The Sorcerer’s Appendix” by Sharon Diane King

“Yin-Yang” by Cayce Osborne

“Shiny Things” by P. A. Cornell

“The Black Marble” by Arthur Carey

“Ephemeralities” by David Cleden

“The Ones Who Made the Crossing” by F. T. Berner

“Vanishing Act” by Raluca Balasa

“Stella” by Melissa Mead

“Yes, Sadly” by Nicholas Stillman

“The Wonders of Yesterday” by Shannon Brady

“Final Report from the Land of Red-Headed Children” by Bonnie McCune

“The Warrior Rides into Battle, Sword Held High” by Brian Rappatta

“The Best Damned Barbershop in Hell” by Bruce Arthurs

“The Girl Who Built Worlds” by Alicia Cay

“One Last Thing” by Danielle Mullen

“Zeno’s Paradise” by E. J. Delaney

“Sophie’s Parisian Stationery & Parfumerie Magnifique” by Wulf Moon

“The Summer of Love” by Art Lasky

“The Wise Sister” by James Dorr

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

As the subtitle makes clear, the works in this anthology deal with hope in various ways. Many of the authors have also decided to take the title literally, creating tales involving birds and other winged creatures. In addition to an original essay on the subject of hope, the book also includes the famous poem by Emily Dickinson that gives the anthology its title.

The narrator of “Dream Eater” by Nemma Wollenfang is a being much like a crow, but one that consumes the pleasant dreams of sleepers at night, avoiding their nightmares. During the day, it appears to be nothing more than a very sick bird, surviving on scraps. When a woman adopts it as a companion, it learns how to return the good deed.

This is a pleasant, optimistic tale with a unique premise. The sacrifice made by the bird for its human friend, and the outcome of that selfless act, have a strong effect on the reader. The dream sequences are written in a poetic style.

In “The Souls of Trees” by Emily Dauvin, a woman goes to the home of her grandfather after he dies. She develops a way to communicate with plants, leading to an unexpected revelation.

As with many of the stories in the book, this work walks a very fine line between heartfelt emotion and sentimentality. Some readers may find that it lands on the wrong side at times. The author’s style is very simple, and this story may be best for younger readers. The protagonist’s ability to talk to plants (and, previously, cats) is treated as a form of technology rather than as magic, which strains credibility to the breaking point.

The narrator of “Adventures in the Spiritual Lost-and-Found” by Paula Hammond lost part of her soul to dark forces when she was clinically dead for a brief time. With the help of a friend and a group of older women with spiritual powers, she enters the Underworld and reclaims what she lost.

Several references to the supernatural in popular culture—the narrator and her friend are self-described “geeks”give the story a self-referential tone that is not always fitting. It seems unusually convenient for the friend to happen to know the women who can help the narrator. Despite these quibbles, fans of urban fantasy may enjoy the action-packed battle with demonic beings.

In “Elf Magic” by Barton Paul Levenson, a young elf falls in love with a human princess. His parents warn him that the kiss of a human will remove all his magical powers, and take away his immortality.

It is obvious from the start that the elf will give up eternal life. Early in the story, I suspected that the conflict between humans and elves was an allegory for racial prejudice. This becomes overtly clear during the last scene, which suddenly changes the setting from a typical fantasy realm to our own modern world. This makes the metaphor too obvious.

The punning title of “The Sorcerer’s Appendix” by Sharon Diane King prepares the reader for a madcap farce. The protagonist tries to prove that so-called magic is just sleight-of-hand by performing conjuring tricks for himself. Unfortunately, they really work in magical ways. A priest helps him discover the reason for these unwanted miracles.

As expected, this is a silly comedy. For such a lightweight piece, the setting (Sixteenth Century Catalonia) is unusually detailed and authentic. (The author is a scholar of the Renaissance.) The background is therefore of more interest than the plot.

The title of “Yin-Yang” by Cayce Osborne is the name given by the narrator to a badly burned snowy egret. She takes the injured bird to an isolated rescue center, operated by one man. During a return visit, she discovers the man’s secret, and why he works so hard to help animals.

This synopsis does not mention the story’s speculative content, which is vital to the plot. The realistic narrative style makes the revelation of the supernatural at the end seem very believable.

“Shiny Things” by P. A. Cornell is narrated by a bird. The setting is a post-apocalyptic Earth, after human beings have seemingly died out. Visiting aliens work to restore the planet, and offer the bird the possibility that humanity will return.

The author writes effectively from the bird’s point of view. The story is rather short, and one might wish for more details about the apparent ecological disaster, as well as the benevolent aliens.

“The Black Marble” by Arthur Carey is set at a future time when extraterrestrials appear on Earth routinely. An alien enters a bar and talks with the owner, leaving him the object in the title. It helps him understand how his customers are important to him other than just a source of income.

Despite the science fiction trappings, this is a simple fable about the importance of friendship. The futuristic details are interesting and plausible, but the alien might as well have been a human being with a photo album.

In “Ephemeralities” by David Cleden, a brilliant mathematician has a sudden insight into the solution of an important problem, but loses it when suffering a minor head injury. With the help of an ex-lover, she attempts to recover the answer, in a way that carries serious risks.

The premise is intriguing, and the author creates a great deal of suspense as the mathematician uses risky methods like sleep deprivation to achieve a state of mind that might solve the problem. The plot builds to a dramatic climax.

The narrator of “The Ones Who Made the Crossing” by F. T. Berner is a refugee working at a menial job in Rome. What makes her unusual is that she can fly, although she hides this talent except when alone. A meeting with a man who helped her brings back memories of the others of her kind who were not so fortunate as to escape persecution.

The narrator is a being based on ancient mythology, which slowly becomes clear as the story continues. This tale, the author’s first professional publication, is written in a subtle and evocative way, resulting in an impressive debut.

The narrator of “Vanishing Act” by Raluca Balasa is a nurse who slowly becomes imperceptible to both machines and people. Despite this incapacity, she continues to work at her job, unseen by patients and staff, while still having the ability to change things in her own way.

The concept is an unusual and interesting one, but I have to confess that I did not understand what the author was trying to convey with it. Perhaps it has something to do with the dedication of health workers, even when unappreciated.

The title character in “Stella” by Melissa Mead is literally a star, come to Earth in the form of a little girl in order to be with the woman who used to wish on her. She offers to grant her heart’s desire, but unforeseen circumstances change their relationship.

Obviously meant to tug at the reader’s heartstrings, this is a simple story, much like a fairy tale. As such, it seems more appropriate for younger readers than their seniors.

In “Yes, Sadly” by Nicholas Stillman, two people wander through a world in which all others have chosen to take drugs that change them into plants. The story ends with the suggestion that the two of them will be able to recreate the human race.

There are frequent references to religion throughout the narrative. The characters’ view of the transformed people as sinners damned to Hell appears to be shared by the author, if I may be so presumptuous. The last lines of the story provide an ending that will seem very familiar to any reader of science fiction.

In “The Wonders of Yesterday” by Shannon Brady, an elderly man communicates via computer with his daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters, who are on a spaceship headed to Mars. There is very little else to this anecdote, other than his pride in his family, even if he never sees them in person again. The presence of an enhanced, talking cat as the man’s companion seems out of place.

The narrator of “Final Report from the Land of Red-Headed Children” by Bonnie McCune is an alien on a mission to study Earth’s redheads, who are thought to be superior. The alien visits a place with an unusually large number of redheads, and decides to stay on Earth, for her own reasons.

This is an odd story, with much left unexplained. Why the place has so many redheads, and why it has a tower that seems to move on its own, are left as mysteries. I’m not sure what the author is trying to tell me, although it apparently has something to do with humanity’s potential for good.

In “The Warrior Rides into Battle, Sword Held High” by Brian Rappatta, a woman rides a bus to work each day, and is infatuated with another woman who takes the same route, but is too timid to talk to her. After the object of her interest fails to show up, she encounters a strange man who gives her an item that changes reality.

This quirky combination of a gentle love story, a satiric look at religion, and a post-modern tale about the nature of fiction itself is certainly offbeat. Readers looking for something different will appreciate it, even if its self-awareness makes it difficult to suspend one’s disbelief.

The narrator of “The Best Damned Barbershop in Hell” by Bruce Arthurs is a demon who owns the business in the title. A pair of damned souls eagerly accept the offer to work there, rather than suffer eternal torture. One is obviously supposed to be Lizzie Borden. (It should be mentioned that, in real life, Lizzie Borden was acquitted for the murder of her father and stepmother.) The other is a superb barber who killed his wife’s lover. The place soon wins a reputation for the quality of its haircuts, leading to a visit from Lucifer. The encounter changes the fate of the two dead humans.

This tongue-in-cheek tale is mostly enjoyable for the informal narration by the demon, who seems like a decent, likable sort, even when subjecting souls to unspeakable torment. It’s an engaging, if minor, bit of drollery.

The title character in “The Girl Who Built Worlds” by Alicia Cay is waiting for death, after an accident left her stranded in space around the planet she helped create, with only a few minutes of life-support left. She hopes to at least watch the sun rise over the world before she dies. Meanwhile, she looks back on how she became a world-builder.

As with other stories in this volume, this felt like fiction meant for younger readers. The situation is an inherently suspenseful one, but I don’t think the ending will surprise many readers.

“One Last Thing” by Danielle Mullen features an elderly woman who wrote novels about a detective more than fifty years ago. Her work still has fans, so she is a guest at a convention. A young man who very closely resembles the character she created talks to her, making her feel better about herself and her work.

From this description, it may not seem that the story is fantasy at all. It is possible, however, that the young man is supposed to be the fictional detective come to life. In any case, this is a quiet tale, without dramatic events. (The description of the convention seems more suited to one for science fiction and fantasy fans rather than mystery buffs, but that’s a trivial quibble.)

In “Zeno’s Paradise” by E. J. Delaney, technology allows those who are at the point of death to experience entire lifetimes, and possibly even an eternity, in the last brief moment of life. The technique allows a man to rejoin his granddaughter in this new world, after a time when he thinks he has lost her forever.

The premise is fascinating, even if I was not always clear on how it was supposed to work. I never understood why it took a while for the man to find his granddaughter, or how exactly they located each other again. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this work is the fact that the characters are Ukrainian, allowing a Western reader to look at another culture. However, this is not really relevant to the plot.

The title of “Sophie’s Parisian Stationery and Parfumerie Magnifique” by Wulf Moon refers to a sentient business in Hollywood at a future time when other artificial intelligences have driven away human beings. The few other remaining conscious buildings—a movie theater and a museum—just wish to serve their nonexistent customers. A man arrives seeking revenge on AI’s, leading to the destruction of the other buildings, and an unexpected relationship with the one in the title.

The title and the premise may seem comic, but for the most part this is a serious story about loneliness. According to an afterword, it was created in twenty-four hours as part of a writing exercise. The fact that a fully professional story was the result is impressive, but it may also explain a certain arbitrary sense to some of the story’s content outside the main plot.

“The Summer of Love” by Art Lasky is the first of two short, humorous pieces that make up the “Grins and Gurgles” section of the book, found also in other anthologies from this publisher. In a New York City made almost empty by the Covid-19 epidemic, the narrator captures a fairy so it can grant a wish. What he desires results in an ironic revelation from the fairy.

Although whimsical, this story is more wistful than funny, even a bit melancholy. Those nostalgic for the 1960’s will best appreciate it.

In “The Wise Sister” by James Dorr, two sisters prepare for an approaching tsunami in very different ways. One gathers the gear required to climb a mountain, and heads for a high point. The other buys a new bikini and prepares to enjoy the approaching wave. This is a very silly story, with an outrageous ending.

Victoria Silverwolf likes the poetry of Emily Dickinson.