Herding Ravens is a weird and wild collection of short stories and flash fiction from Christopher Conlon that includes the clever, poignant, absurd, melancholy, creepy, and just plain bizarre. Conlon’s collection of surreal tales is bound together by an element of humor that often makes it unclear if these works are in fact intended to be entries into the horror genre at large, or if they are merely just expressions of his own vivid imagination, with no real genre intended. There is certainly a variety of macabre and unsettling elements in the stories told, but where a story might actually start to generate a sense of tension or fear there is often some dry or witty humor played forth that eases any of that tension. Often, the reader is left more with a sense of being unsure of what it was that had just been read; this created for me a problem of constantly questioning the point of the work itself, rendering suspension of disbelief rather difficult, making it hard to simply be absorbed in the tale being told.
Conlon’s writing style is one of brevity and clarity and yet successfully evokes the likes of Poe and Lovecraft in form, and the nature of some of the stories do homage to The Twilight Zone. He demonstrates that he is quite capable of laying the foundation for what could be a compelling tale, but often, as is the nature of flash fiction, the reader is left without the benefit of the entire story – instead we get vignettes pulled from various alternate realities of our own world that hint at larger, fuller stories waiting to be told.
That said, this collection is quite adequately named: the pages of this book contain a trove of works collected seemingly straight out of Conlon’s dreams rather than his imagination, and if ravens truly are birds of mystical power able to traverse the worlds of the dreaming living and the waking dead, then the author has done a fine job indeed of herding them.