Ravens as harbingers and companions in sixteen engaging fantasy short stories.
Title: Beneath Raven’s Wing
Author: Vonnie Winslow Crist
Publisher: Fae Corps Inc
Publication date: 01/30/2021
Type: Fiction, short stories, fantasy, horror
Amazon Categories: Literature & Fiction
Ray’s rating: 5 stars
There is an unkindness in these stories. Or, there is at least one raven in each. Right from the start, Ms. Crist tells us that a group of ravens is known as an “unkindness.” If you miss that bit of information in the epigram to Beneath Raven’s Wing, you might be a bit confused when you start reading. Keep reading, though, and the ravens-related meaning quickly becomes apparent.
SIXTEEN GOTHIC-FANTASY-SUPERNATURAL SHORTS
Sixteen short stories make up this collection. Each features ravens (large black birds with straight bills and long wedge-shaped tails) in some way. Sometimes they are key players in the plot (Blood-Soaked Biscuits) and sometimes they are symbols that are “just there” (Snowbroth).
The stories are often set in Gothic or medieval-feeling settings. Sometimes, they are in an actual historical place (Storm). Mangata is set in the deep forests of medieval Russia. An Unkindness is set in nineteenth century Baltimore. Adventure puts the reader in the eighteenth century among pirates. The setting for Lady Raven is less certain, but not really relevant.
While these stories cover a fairly wide expanse of settings, there is a commonality of theme and ambiance among them. Very often they have a feeling of being part of a larger work, like a novel. In all cases, they contain fantasy and supernatural elements, often with unique twists on genre-specific themes (such as vampires, zombies, folklore, and extraterrestrial pond creatures).
LIGHT IN THE DARKS
These stories mostly have a horror feel, but are generally not so “dark” as is common in that genre. While there are killings and vampires, there is not the gross, “mad slasher” meme. In fact, most have a positive, upbeat quality that mitigates the darker elements. Several end with the feeling of being the start of a protagonist’s inspiring future (Blood-Soaked Biscuits, Mangata, Adventure). Even the vampire stories have this quality.
A few are more traditional horror with dark plots (Kalma, Deathwatch, The Walrus). Even these don’t go to the gross or depressing extremes that many horror-lovers seem to like. For me, that’s a big plus, and I’m sure it will be for many readers.
SHORT WORKS WITH LARGER IMPLICATIONS
The writing for all these stories is compelling and held my interest. I especially liked those stories that felt like they are part of a larger tale. Blood-Soaked Biscuits is a good example. It has an Ellis Peters (Cadfael) feel to it that I thought was well done. I feel similarly about the last story, Storm.
While there is a common ambiance in these stories, there is also an imaginative cleverness that lends uniqueness to each. The Walrus, for instance, borrows from the “Paul is Dead” Beatles meme of the 1960s with a “Men in Black” hint of mystery. Nails is a clever riffing on Norse mythology. Asteria is a “girl and her blob” story, and The Brass Fly is a feel-good slant on Aladdin’s Lamp.
There are two vampire stories that have interesting takes on the genre. An Unkindness concerns grave-robbing medical students in the nineteenth century. In Egypt’s Shadows applies the vampire meme to ancient Egypt and uses it as a vehicle for a kind of time-traversing love story.
Such uniqueness in the story slants kept me reading. I also liked that the “raven” theme was not overdone. Where ravens are a major part of the story, their part is contextually believable and interesting. Where they are symbols for presage, they lend ambiance without distraction.
Overall, I think the stories in this collection are well-written and entertaining. My critiques are minor.
There are a couple of instances where the dialogue struck me as a bit stiff and out-of-place. And while I liked the feel for several of the stories as being part of a larger work, this led to some of them feeling like they are ended too abruptly. Some of the characters are too one-dimensional or stereotyped, though this is a fine line in short stories.
Certainly, these are picky criticisms. Most readers probably won’t notice them. It’s just that nothing in literature is perfect.
I much liked the stories in Beneath Raven’s Wing and easily recommend them for lovers of fantasy and supernatural tales. The storytelling and writing is well-done, with enough unique slants on familiar memes to keep the stories interesting and readers engaged.
Likely, after reading these stories, the next time you see a swirling unkindness, you’ll watch out for vampires.