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

There are 10 million reasons I’m into this book, and only some of them have to do with the book cover. This was one of those reads I was thinking about even when I put it down. Two weeks after finishing it, I still think about it. At one point, I was arguing with myself about the structure the author chose. Any book that makes me think about it that much is doing something right.

Fair warning though—the reception of this novel I’ve seen online is very hot and cold. People love it, or they hate it. Which, if I’m being honest, makes it all the more attractive to me. Divisive writing is hella sexy!

PS. I’m part of a giveaway with 7 other authors to win a loaded Kindle. You can enter at the bottom of this review!

THE BOOK:

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

GENRE (ACCORDING TO ME):

Adult, Science-Fiction mixed with Urban Fantasy (science and magic—yipee!)

SHITS GIVEN:

4/5: This book earns the SIR Seal of Approval

SIR Seal of Approval for Great books

FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE:

magic, sci-fi, robots, female protagonists, love stories, betrayal, quirky narrators

IN A NUTSHELL:

Two social outcasts, Patricia and Laurence, form an important but tenuous friendship in their youth. When life takes the pair in different directions—Patricia toward the pursuit of magic and Laurence in the pursuit of technological innovation—they find themselves on a collision course toward love and total destruction.

WHY I LIKED IT:

First of all, the narration of this book is quirky AF. The author’s voice is extremely unique. I’ve never read another book quite like it and probably never will. Which, given the saturation of books in the world today, is impressive in and of itself. While I think the quirkiness will alienate some readers, I was living for it. It made me laugh and reread sentences I found especially intriguing. One of my favorite lines is from Patricia’s POV: “Somewhere along the line, she had become an asshole.” I laughed out loud at that for another paragraph.

The book spends a lot of time in the two main characters’ childhoods, which I wasn’t expecting. The smart thing about that was how many seeds it planted and the empathy you develop for them both. Patricia’s family is awful. I found her sister entirely loathsome, even at the end when she has her comeback moment. I hate her parents. Like, in my bones, I hate them, and they are not even real people. As for Laurence, that poor kid’s parents suck just as much, but I more feel bad for them than hate them. He’s so wildly misunderstood and underestimated. Though he has quite the ego on him, I think it’s the only way he could have survived the mediocrity of everything around him. It’s funny—Patricia’s parents were obsessed with “excellence” and “perfection”, but all she wanted to do was go play in the woods. Laurence’s parents were obsessed with him playing by the rules, blending in, and spending time outside, but all he wanted was to perfect his supercomputer and build time machines and watch rockets launch. So much beautiful contrast.

The instructor of a writing workshop I attended last summer asked us to find the “strangeness”. In other words, it was a challenge for us to evaluate every scene we wrote by what made it strange (stand out). There is absolutely no shortage of strange in this book! It was like I was Luke and Charlie Jane was the Yoda of strange.

Now to why I docked a shit from my rating. There are two reasons:

  1. Reader expectation from the back of the book
  2. My personal preference in structure

From the summary on the back of the book, I got the distinct impression this book would be all about a war between magic and science. That’s a concept I will never get tired of, especially because the magic in this book was very nature-driven. As someone who loves technology and nature
(my degree is in Environmental Sustainability Planning & Management, y’all), I love thinking about things like that. Also, I just love kick ass war novels. So, I’m thinking there are going to be some epic battles and all this insane tech and equally insane magic the entire book.

Nope.

It’s far more of a love story than a war story. Which, I am totally cool with, I was just expecting a war. To prove my point, here’s the first line from the book jacket summary:

“An ancient society of witches and a hipster technological start-up are going to war as the world tears itself apart.”

In reality, that was the very end of the book, and it was less a war and more a battle. We’re really glimpsing the beginning of this war and the main characters’ roles in it.

As for the structure, I was very disappointed to learn about the magic in the world so late in the book. I really wanted to know more about Patricia’s experience at witch school much sooner, as well as more about the traditions and rules of the magic in the book. There are several things about Patricia that make her unique even among other magical folk—I wanted so badly for that to be exploited and to learn more about that part of her. Why was she so different? What were the implications as the other witches saw it? My reader wish was for this stuff to come much sooner in the book and for there to be more of it. I’d have loved for the beginning where they’re in middle school to have been trimmed down and more of Patricia’s world revealed sooner.

That said, Laurence’s world was covered enough for me. Probably because I read and write sci-fi all the time, so I was able to fill in a lot of gaps. But, I do feel his projects and world were covered more thoroughly. Which was great because there were some super cool theories and tech!

Where you can find it: Goodreads | Amazon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Charlie Jane is one of the only people I’ve ever seen actually pull off pink hair. I got lucky and the folks at DCC’17 put her on my panel about representing gender-nonconforming people in fiction. I was a little star struck (I’d seen her book literally EVERYWHERE), and I’m sure I rambled like an idiot when I got her to sign it. Despite that, she was kind and sweet and signed my book. I daresay this book is as unique as her, but it’s probably not true. She is absolutely one of a kind.

More about Charlie Jane from Goodreads:

I’m probably the only person to have become a fictional character in a Star Trek novel and in one of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books.

I’m the editor of io9.com, where I’m probably best known for my reviews of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and The Last Airbender. Or for my Game of Thrones recaps. Or for my writing advice columns. Or my in-depth investigation of people who claim HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. Or my geeky articles about topics like the search for a cure for cancer, or how Leonard Nimoy changed everything, or how the TV show Star Blazers helped me deal with being bullied. Or just generally being an obnoxious blow-hard.

I won the Emperor Norton Award, for “extraordinary invention and creativity unhindered by the constraints of paltry reason.”

I used to live in a Buddhist nunnery, when I was a teenager. I love to do karaoke. I eat way too much spicy food. I hug trees at pat stone lions for luck. I talk to myself way too much when I’m working on a story.

Where you can find Charlie Jane: Goodreads | Twitter | Website

She has written so much more than just this book and has won a crap-load of awards. She is a fantastic, imaginative writer who evokes emotion. That’s all any writer strives to do. At least, I hope one day someone will say that about me.

Kindle Giveaway: Open Until 11/30

Enter to win a Kindle pre-loaded with the following ebooks (over a $100 value!):

 

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Chasing Shadows by Bernadette Marie

Apollo’s Raven by Linnea Tanner

Gather the Party by Antony Soehner

The Songweaver’s Vow by Laura Vanarendonk Baugh

Life’s Forever Changed by Anne Stone

The Rampart Guards by Wendy Terrien

Christmas Spirit by Julie Cameron

In the Mind of Revenge by Liv Hadden

All books have 4+ stars on Amazon!

 

Never stop reading,

*This review is purely my own opinion. I read this book for fun and am sharing it because I wanna.