Friday, January 13, 2017

The Dark Birds, by Ursula Vernon

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(Horror) There are always three sisters. When one gets big, Father eats her, and Mother has a new baby. This is the story of how that cycle ended. (7,600 words; Time: 25m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ Average

"," by (edited by Jason Sizemore), appeared in issue 92, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: Between the indentured servant and the paw-paw tree, we can guess that this story takes place in the mid 1700s in what was then Virginia or North Carolina. (I can’t find any reference to “The Responsible Farmer’s Book of Lists,” but if it's a real book, it would set a lower bound on the date.)

The story essentially tells how Baby learned enough and grew enough to stand up to Father and destroy him, ending the awful cycle. (Assuming that burning was enough to kill him.)

The revelation that the dark birds are the spirits of the devoured sisters isn’t a complete surprise, since we’ve known that they disturbed Mother and Father both.

Con: There is probably a much deeper symbolic meaning to the story, but I'm not able to see it.

Baby is completely passive up until the very end of the story, and neither she nor Susan ever becomes a sympathetic character for some reason. They’re victims, but they’re not very likeable.

One wonders why Mother didn’t do away with Baby after she witnessed what happened to Susan.

Other Reviews: Search Web, Browse Review Sites (Issue 92)
Ursula Vernon Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB

5 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. A bit darker than I prefer or that I've seen from Vernon before, but very good as I've come to expect.

  2. I enjoyed this one a lot, but then, I like dark fairy tales. It loses a star because I thought the ending was rushed, and because it was a clear case of deus ex machina at the end.


    1. Different readers definitely have different priorities. I'll never recommend a story with a deus ex machina ending, for example, but you're not the only one who's said he can overlook that. In the case of this story, I think the sheer horror of a father eating his children grossed me out too much--another place where different people have very different tastes. (So to speak.)

    2. I wonder if Goya's "Saturn Devouring His Son" was an inspiration for this story. They seem to have a similar aesthetic. (But if just reading about a father devouring his children grosses you out, you might want to avoid the painting. It ain't pretty, as they say.)

    3. I've seen it several times. And, yeah, it's not my favorite painting in the Prado.