Review written by Jess Peacock
Say what you will about Brian Keene, but the man has made an impact in horror fiction. Since his Bram Stoker award winning debut novel The Rising landed on bookshelves in 2004 (credited by no less than the New York times as instrumental in kicking off the zombie craze), Keene has attained a dark prose Grand Poobah status in the eyes of genre fans around the globe. With no less than eleven novels since The Rising, assorted short stories, comic book gigs, and a free ongoing serial published through his website, Keene is practically a one-man publishing industry.
Unfortunately for Keene’s latest, A Gathering of Crows has proven to be sparse and unimaginative, devoid of any tangible characterization or depth. And while layered nuance may not be what horror fans want out of the author, I can’t imagine that a bland narrative overrun with wooden dialogue is high on the list either.
Set in a small town in West Virginia, A Gathering of Crows brings back Levi Stozfus, an ex-Amish Hebraic witch featured in Keene’s book Ghost Walk. On his way to Virginia and stopping only for the night in Brinkley Springs, Levi inconveniently finds himself trapped within the borders of the forgettable hamlet as five demonic entities lay siege to the citizenry, ripping apart anyone and everyone they find.
A Gathering of Crows’ whisper thin plot seems more like an appendix for Keene’s burgeoning Labyrinth universe than a stand-alone novel. Filled with alternate earth timelines under attack by The Thirteen (evil forces sworn to destroy God’s creation), the Labyrinth is the Lovecraftian mythos Keene has constructed connecting his various books and the assorted cosmic horrors within. The inter-dimensional conflicts continually spill over into physical reality, unleashing zombies, giant worms, ghouls, and now soul-consuming revenants manifested in a murder of crows.
While I am not one to necessarily share advice with bestselling authors (and let’s face it, a book like A Gathering of Crows is red meat to his ravenous readers), Keene could potentially profit more from abbreviating his enormous literary output and focusing on developing stories that operate on more than the primal nihilistic levels that he has explored ad infinitum. The notion that these cataclysmic events are happening simply due to vengeful antics of The Thirteen creates a redundancy of back-story that grows tiresome novel after novel. While Lovecraft was able to loosely connect his pantheon of dark tales with the backbone of the celebrated Cthulhu Mythos, it must be noted that the legendary writer’s body of work manifested primarily in the short form and, in all honesty, should not credibly be compared with Keene’s (even though I just did).
With regard to A Gathering of Crows, those who like this sort of thing will find this to be the sort of thing they like. Keene is somewhat of a name brand in the horror market, making him to some extent review proof. Ultimately, his fans will read him no matter what, and Leisure Fiction will continue to pump out his material. His next book, Entombed, already scheduled to drop in February, is a return to Keene’s zombie wheelhouse, and hopefully a homecoming for the sheer narrative velocity and character development of The Rising.