Review: Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

CrowshineAlan Baxter’s anthology Crow Shine has recently been nominated for an Aurealis award for best collection, and when you read it it’s easy to see why. It’s a bloody good read, start to finish.

There are nineteen stories  from the dark end of the speculative fiction genre, mostly horror, but with a smattering of weird and urban and dark fantasy. Character, time period, geographical setting, and supernatural element are richly varied, so no mid-anthology ennui here. Indeed, the collection starts well and only gets better as it proceeds.

For my money, the closest thing to a weak story is Punishment of the Sun, which, while engaging, I felt lacked clarity in its underlying events. But it’s still a pretty high low, and its surrounded by gems.

Tiny Lives is such a pristine and moving example of shorter short fiction that I read it several times to see what I could learn from it about writing. The Chart of the Vagrant Mariner is a brilliant eldritch pirate story, originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and a highlight. Darkest Shade of Grey is like a lost episode of Kolchak: the Night Stalker, but with extra added humanity. A Strong Urge to Fly is pure Tales of the Unexpected, with some beautiful, atmospheric prose in the descriptions of the town of Beston-on-Sea. The Old Magic is a moving story of longevity and power. Among these highs, the final story, The Darkness in Clara, in which a woman struggles to make sense of her partner’s death, still manages to stand out as exceptional. Again, moving and humane, with a point to be made about how we harm each other and ourselves.

A great collection, highly recommended.

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