‘All the Birds in the Sky’ is among the weirdest books I have ever read. It’s just odd in a way I can’t quite put words to except to say I’ve never read anything quite like it.
I’m still trying to decide if I like it or not after reading it for the “fantasy genre” segment of a class I’m taking this semester through Emporia State University.
The bulk of the novel takes place in a not-so-distant future world, with our protagonists — Patricia and Laurence — all grown up and living their separate lives. They won’t stay separate for long — their respective life choices have them on a collision course that t’s hinted at several times could bring about the end of the world.
But it starts with Patricia and Laurence as children, growing up in less-than-ideal homes, attending a school where they are both bullied by other students and sometimes adults. The two are each other’s only friends for the bulk of their childhood until circumstances eventually separate them in high school.
Patricia starts off on the path that will eventually lead her into conflict with Laurence when she’s about six years old.
She has just rescued an injured bird from her vaguely-sociopathic sister — Roberta, the sister, makes a habit of tormenting small animals — when the bird begins talking to Patricia.
This is how Patricia learns she is a witch.
Outside of being a general outcast and generally mishandled at home, Laurence is Patricia’s polar opposite.
He’s a computer genius who has constructed a sort of rudimentary artificial intelligence in his bedroom closet. It goes without saying that Laurence is a huge nerd. He has hopes of attending a STEM-focused high school, hopes that are threatened when — on the word of a very sketchy guidance counselor — his parents send him off to some deeply unpleasant military academy. He does eventually escape — and Patricia escapes to a school of magic that is very unlike Hogwarts.
Both of them learn to hone their respective talents and fall in with groups — Patricia with a bunch of fellow witches who want to save the world and Laurence with a group of tech-savvy people who are bent on using their skills to save humanity.
These respective groups are what set the two protagonists off on the paths that will ultimately put them in conflict with one another in a battle of science versus magic.
I don’t like the amount of time spent on the protagonists’ childhoods, namely because I don’t like watching small children suffer, even in print.
Harry Potter was my favorite childhood book series and I almost put the first book down because of how terribly Harry’s aunt, uncle and cousin treat him in the first few chapters. It’s just depressing and makes me want to smack people — fictional people, which is even worse because fictional people are entirely un-smackable on the basis they don’t actually exist.
I understand as well as anyone that these kinds of scenarios happen in real life. Children end up in abusive homes far more often than anyone wants to think and authority figures do sometimes fail them for a variety of reasons.
This aspect of the story is, unfortunately, not as unrealistic as I’d like.
That doesn’t make it any easier to stomach chapter after chapter of hearing about how our protagonists are being bullied at school and at home. It went on at a length I felt — by the end of it — was somewhat excessive.
It’s a common trope in children and young adult books — I mentioned Harry Potter earlier. Having a less-than-loving home makes it easy for a child protagonist to head off on an adventure when adventure comes calling — chances are they’re already accustomed to doing things for themselves. This is also why you see so many orphans in books where the story hinges on children and very young people setting off on some grand quest and saving the world.
I suspect it also helps to lure in teen readers who are just very tired of their own parents and think they’d like to be an adventure-having orphan themselves.
But I digress.
In any event, this is not a young adult novel and I wish the author had found some way to set the story up without subjecting us to the gory details of the protagonists’ unfortunate childhood experiences.
On the other hand, I’m not sure some events and their motives in their adulthoods’ would be as understandable if readers didn’t know what came before.
I can’t really disrecommend this book because I didn’t exactly dislike it. It’s also not my favorite of all time.
If you’re interested in reading this book, it is available for checkout in hardcopy at the Dorothy Bramlage Public Library in the fiction section.
I personally listened to the audiobook version.