Last summer, a fellow writer of mine brought to my attention an announcement on the upcoming debut novel from io9 chief editor Charlie Jane Anders, “All the Birds in the Sky.” It had an intriguing synopsis, as it follows two people, a witch and an engineering genius, who were friends in early adolescence and reunite as adults living in San Francisco. Their timing is spot-on, for it’s just as when the world is thrown into chaos, and it may require the combined efforts of both of them to do something about it.
Following its released on January 26th, I read it, all the while with the anticipation to fall in love with it. After all, there was a blurb on the back cover who compared the novel’s spirit to that of David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” (which is one of my all-time favorite books). However, by the time I reached the final page, I found myself feeling more at odds about the book than wanting to praise its glory.
Already from the beginning, “All the Birds in the Sky” makes it clear that it has two genres in one, with magic and science co-existing in the same world. That was a feat I never found mind boggling, for I thought that worked quite well, just as how peanut butter and chocolate work well together in a Reese’s cup. It was the execution of the plot itself, as well as some character development, that I found myself raising an eyebrow at, out of confusion more and more.
For one thing, I didn’t find it wise to spend so much time in the youth of our characters. While I know it holds significance to their story, I just felt that that could have been lessened, without hindering its meaning. Seriously, the time in their youth takes up a good 1/3 of the novel, and I really saw no reason for that.
There is also the character who watches the characters’ interactions in their childhood all the while with a careful eye, and is ultimately the cause for their separation until adulthood. I wouldn’t have minded this character as much if it weren’t for the fact that this is the only part of the book where he plays any real significance. Beyond that, he is seen and mentioned a few times, but that’s about it.
I also found myself not liking the character of Laurence; the scientist of this synergy duo. What he goes through is written to where we as the readers may feel sympathy for him, but there were far too many times where I just could not stand him. I found him to be a jerk for the way he treated Patricia (the witch) both in childhood and at times in adulthood. While he isn’t completely cold-hearted to her, I was indeed surprised that they could still bear being in each other’s presence by the end of the novel.
In addition, I found the book spending almost too much time on the fundamentals of the relationship between Patricia and Laurence; so much to where by the time the apocalypse begins, it feels very rushed into it; as if Anders was thinking, “Oh snap! I’m almost at the end of the book. I better get this apocalypse started already.”
There were other loops and plot devices that just weren’t making a strong impression on me. But despite these faults, I still pushed through, for there was something whimsy (and weird) about it all that was impossible to ignore, and ultimately prompted you to come back for more.
On a five-star scale, I would have to give “All the Birds in the Sky” 3.5 stars. It was a whimsy, weird read, but it didn’t quite make the mark for it to be considered a modern-day “Cloud Atlas” that I otherwise expected it to be.