All the Birds in the Sky is a crazy sci-fi/fantasy mash-up, which started out as a solid 5-star novel aimed at the young adult market. As the story progressed, however, it became less sure of what it wanted to be and the feeling of excitement I felt over those early chapters mostly disappeared. In the end I did think it was an interesting read, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to read it, but it didn't manage to live up to my initial expectations.
As children Patricia and Laurence are drawn together at school because they're the odd ones out. They may not have anything else in common besides not fitting in, but that is enough to throw these two unlikely people together to create a reluctant yet strong bond. Until Laurence is ripped away from school and ordinary life, and the two don't meet again until they're much older and on opposite sides of a global battle.
Laurence has grown up to become a scientist extraordinaire and works for an organisation creating technical advances that can result in the end of civilisation as we know it. Patricia on the other hand has embraced her magical abilities and through her education she has come to terms with who she is, a witch, and the powers she's been given to change the world for the better – and punish those that deserve it. Both Lauren and Patricia do have good intentions, but the people they work with and the poor execution of their plans could have disastrous results for the other person, and even the planet as a whole.
This book started out as an incredibly exciting discovery of magic and science. Laurence and Patricia's first tentative steps in the direction of both was wondrous and endlessly fascinating, I particularly loved the supercomputer created by Laurence, and Patricia's connection to a tree (it makes sense in the book, trust me). The near-future dystopian world their stories were unfolding in, was excellent as well and build subtly yet distinctively by author Charlie Jane Anders.
I was so excited for this story to evolve and the characters to change from children into kick-ass protagonists at the centre of an epic battle of good versus evil. I really wanted this crazy mash-up of genres to do well and pave the way for a whole new list of genre-defying reads that would make books unexpected and surprising. The fact that I was rooting so much for this novel and its author, is what made it all the more crushing when it failed to live it to my expectations.
Don't get me wrong, the first half was absolutely ace and there weren't enough spare moments in my day to steal another chapter and discover what would happen next. But as the characters grew older the storyline became confusing and ended up a bit all over the place – as did the target audience. It's a shame that the author didn't know what she wanted her novel to be in the end. YA or adult? Good or evil? Crazy or logical? The blending didn't work and the indecisiveness detracted from what could've been the kick-ass sci-fi/fantasy cross-over of the year.
Charlie Jane Anders clearly has some fantastic ideas that no doubt would make a great piece of fiction in any medium. However, she shouldn't put all of these in a single novel, because without a clear direction and message it doesn't work. It didn't help that I really loved the characters of Patricia and Laurence as children, but they seemed to undergo a complete personality change as they grew up, turning into unlikeable adults who I no longer cared for. Consistency and a believable journey is key here.
The first half of All the Birds in the Sky was an exciting and constantly surprising discovery that kept me on the edge of my seat. And even though the storyline and characters descended into chaos in the second half, Charlie Jane Anders showed a lot of potential and fascinating ideas in her debut novel. With a little more direction and a clear storyline in mind, her next book could very well be that genre-defying read that paves the way for a whole new type of fiction.
All the Birds in the Sky is published by Titan Books and you can buy a copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
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