I’m a huge fan of The Crow; just the fundamental idea alone pleases me on a primordial level. I love the idea of an entity with the power to return a dead person to the world of the living to seek their revenge against those who wronged them. Gives me shivers, you know? So when I stumbled upon a whole book full of fiction based on the idea of The Crow, I could hardly contain myself!
The Crow: Shattered Lives & Broken Dreams is a book of fiction and poetry based around James O’Barr’s The Crow. All the stories within the book are one-shots and have no connection to one another but all have something to do with the themes of The Crow (death, rebirth, revenge, etc etc). The particular story I’m reviewing today, written by A. A. Attanasio, is about a couple of demons, Dren (the liar demon) and Nergal (the flayer demon) that begin to hear the voice of an angel from deep within the depths of Hell. The angel promises salvation from Hell and Dren and Nergal have to either ignore it, and stay in Hell’s eternal torment, or trust it and hope it isn’t a trick.
The location for 99% of this story is Hell. Not a metaphorical Hell, or a Hell-like place, actual Hell; and amazingly the author describes it beautifully. It’s a barren landscape, icy cold and bleak but within the bleakness, there is incredible beauty. It speaks to the talent of Attanasio that he is able to create splendour out of the depths of Hell.
The themes present within this short story are that of hope, repentance and the idea that you really can change. Unlike other Crow based stories, this is about inner change and not external change (like slaying your enemies for what they did to you, as an example). Dren hears the voice of an angel and suddenly even the lowliest demon in Hell has something to hope for. The voice is offering him a second chance and, although it may be a horrible trick, Dren trusts it and within that trust, and his own willingness to change, he finds salvation from the pit of Hell. It gives me comfort to think that if a demon can find hope from his bleak surroundings, that I can find hope in anything as well.
Hellbent is such a breath of fresh air. Some short stories are about as clear as mud (anyone who took English lit. in university will know that) but Hellbent lays all its cards on the table right away. It’s a story about a soul who has suffered long and hard in Hell and is granted a second chance; it’s a hard story to pull off but Attanasio does with his beautifully written prose. Honestly, if you read this story for one thing, and one thing alone, read it for the prose. Attanasio writes in such a way as to make you feel empathetic for the main character–a demon!–as he struggles to escape Hell–which is bleak and beautiful all at the same time.
My final thoughts on Hellbent are that Attanasio makes Hell beautiful and that is no easy feat! Plot, characters, prose, they all interweave to become a great short story. Of course, what drew me so deeply into this story is that Attanasio took something ugly and made it beautiful and that’s the same thing that James O’Barr did with The Crow (and I’m connected at the soul to The Crow!). Hellbent is truly beautiful and, whether you believe in Hell, demons, or the afterlife at all, it’s a story that should resonate deeply within you because doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance: a chance to repent and grow and change? I think so, and Hellbent has given me the hope that it’s possible for anyone.