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


Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: January 26th 2016 by Tor Books
Source: Publisher

“Society is the choice between freedom on someone else’s terms and slavery on yours.”

Settle in while I attempt to sort through my thoughts about this book with a pretense at eloquence.

The sheer scope of All the Birds in the Sky is immense. The novel dips in and out of the lives of its two protagonists from when they are six or so to until they are in their late 20s (or so it feels to me). And it does all this in 313 pages. Here is the official synopsis:

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.

I liked this novel quite a lot. There were some points that I did not particularly agree with and about which I will speak later but as a whole, I enjoyed the characters in the novel, I enjoyed the freshness of the story, and I adored the writing. So the book succeeded with me.

Laurence and Patricia are both extraordinary children living in ordinary families with ordinary parents who cannot understand, and refuse to empathize with, their children. Laurence’s parents are far better than Patricia’s but more about him later. Patricia’s parents abuse her and no matter what you say, leaving her locked up in a room with barely sufficient food and a tyrannical older sister is abuse. Then, too, there is the verbal abuse heaped upon her for all her perceived failings; she is castigated for her inability to fit in and be normal. With her home life terrible, one would think Patricia would find some solace at school but no. The bullying she endures at school is ten times worse and even more tragically, it is instigated by an adult figure who has inexcusable reasons of his own for doing what he does.

Laurence and Patricia meet at school when they are fourteen or so and a friendship sparks between them. The kind of friendship that exists between two outcasts who refuse to file away their individual quirks in order to fit in with the rest of the crowd. Laurence is far less likable than Patricia and far more susceptible to peer pressure though he does at least try to resist the adult’s machinations to alienate Patricia further. Their friendship culminates when Patricia, perhaps revealing her true nature for the first time, rescues Laurence from the military school his parents have sent to him under the manipulation of the adult figure who somehow loses importance at the end of the first part. She rescues him when it would have been far easier for her to be rescued and forget Laurence.

When Patricia and Laurence reconnect as adults years later, Laurence is still unlikable, perhaps even more so than he used to be. And Patricia is a witch. She has found her people and gained a sense of her own power and worth. However, there are still people, people like her, who keep eroding at her esteem because of an incident that occurred when she was a teenager and made stupid decisions. Laurence is in love with his girlfriend but deeply afraid that the person he is does not deserve the person she is. His insecurities constantly threaten to ruin their relationship and as a result he more often than not behaves in ways that threaten to actualize his fears rather than curb them.

It is interesting, then, to see the way he behaves with Patricia. To him she is a weird girl who does magic–for a scientific person, Laurence is remarkably accepting of Patricia’s less than rational powers. Their friendship with all its  ebbs and flows feels genuine and the time Anders spends gradually creating the foundation of it is rewarded by the way it feels emotionally authentic. At the heart of it, All the Birds in the Sky, is a love story. A modern fairytale which weds science and magic and finds a way to an ever after even with the world falling apart around humanity.

The primary conflict in the novel is the disparity between science and magic, between nature and technology. Patricia loves nature and Laurence most assuredly does not. To say anything more would be giving things away and I don’t want to do that.

The side characters are diverse and full of personality and spark. The narrative makes huge strides in time–necessary for a novel spanning so many years and the pace of the novel is quick but at the same time there are moments of introspection that I enjoyed.

What I did balk at was how Patricia’s attitude towards her parents change especially since they explicitly disowned her at the end of the section two of the book. I have seen this attitude in other books before and wondered at the sympathy children have for parents who are horrible parents and you know what? I don’t get it. No matter how nice a person is, no matter how forgiving a person is, there is a point where a line has to be drawn. I want to see parents being taken to task for their inability to treat children with kindness and human decency.

I also wasn’t a fan of Laurence. I like that he grows through the narrative and becomes less of a jerk but I still did not care much for him. Patricia is the reason I liked the novel. Well, Patricia and Peregrine whose name is all I am going to give you. He is one character I wholeheartedly love and you need to read this book so we can discuss how awesome he is.

So…this is not much of a review and I’m sorry about that. There are some books you read that you keep in your mind and think about and All the Birds in the Sky was that book for me. I thought about it a lot. I’m still thinking about it. Charlie Jane Anders’s has written a tremendous novel and I am quite excited to see what she comes up with next.

2 responses to “Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

  1. I agree that Laurence is unlikable. I am not sure we are supposed to like him. I believe we are supposed to be rooting for nature over science.

    And it is a good novel, well written, and fast paced, and yet, slow enough for you to catch your breath.

    I thought it odd that she felt anything for parents that hurt her so much. I have not been abused quite the same way that her parents abused her, but as one whose father was verbally abusive, I never forgave him, not even after he died. There are memories that are sweet I have of him, but I would never say he was a good father. Perhaps that is where Patricia is with this.

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