All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
For the first two-thirds of the story, I wasn’t sure this book knew what it wanted to be–either a contemporary fantasy, magical realism, or an absurd tome on the order of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This seemed to vary from chapter to chapter (the chapters alternate viewpoints between the two main characters). Because of this, I felt the story rambled more than a little, so that I wondered when or if it would ever get to some sort of point.
I was never tempted to put the book down though, because Charlie Jane Anders is an excellent writer. Her prose is rich and evocative, and she has a knack for metaphors and similes that turned my fingertips green with envy. She also moved the story right along, so even if I thought we might never get to where we were supposed to go, for the most part I was enjoying the trip.
The two main characters, Patricia and Laurence, represent the two opposing sides of the author's mythos: magic and science. This is made clear right away, in each of the chapters introducing them. A bird Patricia rescues starts talking to her within the first three pages--and pay close attention to where that bird takes her, because the ending of the book is indicated right then and there. In the second chapter, the bullied nerd Laurence invents a "two-second time machine," which immediately portends the various other things he invents throughout the book, all of which play huge roles in the final showdown. It's a masterful bit of foreshadowing, and also of characterization.
About two-thirds of the way through the book, the author drops the bomb. (Figuratively, from my reaction, and literally in the story.) Looking back now, I can see how carefully the whole thing was set up, and how delicate some of the puzzle pieces were. When everything clicked into place, the book took off like Secretariat exploding out of the starting gate, and all I could do was hang on for what became a helluva ride.
This book takes some pretty familiar tropes and turns them inside out. The only quibble I have with it is the meandering first section, and given the quality of the writing, I didn't mind all that much. Your mileage may vary, of course. In any event, the book is well worth checking out.
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