Book Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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All the Birds in the Sky | Charlie Jane Anders | January 26, 2016
Tor Books | 320 pages | ARC provided by publisher

Synopsis:

From the editor-in-chief of io9.com, a stunning novel about the end of the world–and the beginning of our future


Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.


But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.


A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse

Review:

All the Birds in the Sky is a coming-of-age novel that takes place over the course of several years. Patricia and Laurence are brought together in school because they’re both considered outsiders: everyone believes Patricia to be a witch, and Laurence, the science whiz, gets picked on for his smarts.

The book makes it clear that both children are destined for something great and terrible. There’s talk that the two will be leading powers in bringing about the end of everything. When they meet again after being trained for their respective skills, they become closer than ever, but soon find that their two opposing lifestyles might be incompatible.

In this world, science and magic are at odds with each other. Each is a threat to the other’s existence, but both appear to be thriving. When the conflict between them comes to a head, it becomes clear that tension has been building since the main characters’ childhoods.

When the novel jumps forward to Laurence and Patricia as adults, the idea that there are forces beyond any single person’s control takes the forefront. Both characters want to build better lives for themselves and the people around them, but despite how hard they try to better the world, opposing forces keep pushing back, creating an insistent tug of war. Each character must pick their battles wisely, because neither can save everyone from the looming end of the world.

With a glowing blurb from Michael Chabon likening this book to a “masterpiece”, All the Birds in the Sky is a science fiction and fantasy mashup that is written in a rich, flowing style that also puts it alongside great literary fiction. It’s a great pick for newcomers to the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Similar to Lev Grossman’s The Magicians in tone and theme, All the Birds in the Sky is about friendship, magic, and the dark inevitabilities of the world – inevitabilities that exist even in a world where magic and incredibly advanced science are thriving subcultures that can deeply impact the future.

This book is riddled with so much complexity. The characters are flawed but likable, there is just enough foreshadowing to keep the reader on the edge of their seat and not frustrated with confusion, and the book’s many themes are deeply embedded in every line.

Despite being a novel about an impending apocalypse, All the Birds in the Sky is an inviting and enjoyable read with much to offer the reader. Charlie Jane Anders continues to be an author to look out for.

Bonus:

Check out this pie chart breakdown of the book’s influences from San Francisco Magazine. I think it’s quite accurate.

birds_in_sky

About the Author:

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Charlie Jane Anders is the editor in chief of io9.com and the organizer of the Writers With Drinks reading series. Her stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tor.com, Lightspeed, Tin House, ZYZZYVA, and several anthologies. Her novelette “Six Months, Three Days” won a Hugo award.

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