The Black Bird by R.L. McCallum

Being mired in my chunky and long novels, I have nearly forgotten the pleasures of reading a novella, especially a novella so masterfully written. This novel was again my foray into the world of indie and self-published authors, and overall, I am happy with my choice.

The novella is a stylish compilation of recognizable moves in the horror genre and allusions to the very foundations of this genre. It is also a deftly written Victorian period piece with the language imitating the famous early ghost stories. The imitation goes beyond the level of wording and vocabulary, but rather successfully attempts to follow the syntax and even ideas and values of this epoch. Some fans of the splatterpunk might consider this a softie, a sub par performance, BUT I FOR ONE really enjoyed its deftly linguistic fabric of the text.

The author also masterfully used recognizable allusions (allusions to Poe, the crimes committed by Jack the Ripper, and definitely the image of the raven). Ravens conventionally are used to create the unpleasant murky feeling of something sinister but hardly tangible. This raven gains even more power and turns not only into the harbinger of disaster but also the extension of something immeasurably darker.

Allusions to Jack the Ripper are key if you want to create this dark, Gothic world of Victorian England. The ever-used mystery of the serial killer is also given a new supernatural explanation in this novella. The Gothic setting of the novel is another commendable point. The aura of an old, ramshackle, dilapidated, haunting place perfectly recreates the chilling atmosphere of the Wuthering Heights.

The most important thing is that the horror, experienced by Mr. James, the protagonist, and a famous poet, could have a logical explanation of him being addicted to the laudanum with the subsequent hallucinations and gradual descent into madness. It could be explained, but who would settle for the banal explanation of hallucinations caused by this drug. It is indeed much more exciting to entertain a darker idea of the raven as the embodiment of evil, of a beautiful woman, who is THE killer and whose skin is as cold and cadaverous as of a corpse.

Dreams and nightmares in this novella are very visionary in their nature, but also very Victorianesque when they were interpreted as a certain affinity bond with the inexplicable part of our nature, our subconscious mind, and our dangerous potential to cross the line of normalcy and madness. I really enjoyed the Victorian interpretation of madness as a dangerous and a dark gift into which Mr. James tapped to create his poems with the eerie and otherworldly feeling.

Overall, a novella that deserves four stars for its stylish intertextual literary content and a really spooky and eerie atmosphere. A job very well done!

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2 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Classic, Gothic, Historical Fiction, Horror, Indie, Victorian

2 responses to “The Black Bird by R.L. McCallum

  1. Brad Wills

    Thanks for reviewing this terrific novella by Mr. McCallum. I, too, found much to appreciate in the author’s homage to the ghost stories of yesteryear. In fact, I was the narrator of the audiobook version of this tale, and Mr. McCallum’s prose and imagery aided immensely in my interpretation and delivery of the material.

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