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Published by Tor Books on January 26th 2016
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From the editor-in-chief of io9.com, a stunning novel about the end of the world--and the beginning of our future
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.
A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.
This doesn’t often happen, but this is a book that I finished because I was stubborn, and for no other reason. Also, it wasn’t THAT long and by the time I decided I should probably bail, I didn’t have enough time left to read something else for today, unless I picked something really short. So I finished this instead.
That’s all to tell you right there that this isn’t going to be a favorable review.
I went into All the Birds in the Sky with a lot of hope. The author is one of my favorite columnists over at io9, and I expected way more from her writing than I got in this book. I’m going back to the columns.
For starters, the book reads like either Young Adult or New Adult. The story starts with our protagonists in middle school, and ends with them in their mid-20s at most, still completely confused about “the meaning of it all”. But they have sex, so probably New Adult. (There is absolutely nothing wrong with either YA or NA, but I prefer to know what I’m getting into in this regard up front. And I’d probably have avoided the whole thing if I’d known.)
This should have been a coming-of-age story, but I’m not sure that the protagonists ever do get there. They feel like more experienced apprentices than finally knowledgeable adults, or even on the road to there, at the end.
There’s a certain amount of wish-fulfillment in this story. Two kids, just a bit too weird and always outcasts at their school, bond together over their outcast status. Then the girl discovers that her weirdness is because she is a witch, and the boy discovers that he is an elite technical genius, and their paths diverge until they meet again at the end of the world.
But it felt like every plot twist had to hit every single cliche EVAR before the story moved on. Patricia and Laurence aren’t just slightly weird – their school is experimental and strange and designed to torture its occupants beyond all reason. Not that the students aren’t more than happy to torment anyone even slightly outside the norm, but their school is insane.
Their parents are all equally strange, and punish both children to the point of abuse, when they are not being criminally neglectful.
From this reader’s perspective, much too much of this part of the story felt like bullying on top of bullying, well past making the point that these kids were different. Either this was intended to feel surreal, or society had already gone so far to hell in the handbasket that this crap was normal. In which case, we needed a bit more explanation for how things got this screwed up.
The part of the story that might have been really interesting – the actual growing up years when Patricia goes to witch school and Laurence escapes his parents and ends up at MIT, are almost completely glossed over. When we meet them again, they are both in their 20s and the world is in even more serious crisis than it was.
The story then becomes the fight between science as either a redemptive or destructive force, as embodied by Laurence and his friends and colleagues, and magic as a healing force, embodied by Patricia and her fellow witches. Neither of whom, frankly, seem particularly clueful about the messes they are creating.
The two groups are racing to see which of them will bring about the end of the world as they know it first, while justifying their efforts by demonizing the other. It’s fast and furious and the end of the book doesn’t make much sense.
Escape Rating D: I did finish, which gets a D. Although that finish was sheer stubbornness on my part.
I do not like bullying stories or humiliation humor, and the first third of this book is both of those. Patricia and Laurence are bullied at every single turn, by the school, by their teachers, by their fellow students, by their parents, and Patricia by her sociopathic sister. It was relentless and depressing and went on way too long for this reader.
I hate humiliation humor. That’s where someone deliberately sets someone up for an accident or a pratfall and then laughs with their buddies because the victim’s humiliation is just so funny to them. Not funny at all. And there are better ways to make the point, if there is one, and advance the plot than repeating this behavior over and over.
In YA books, parents are often clueless, but in this one, the behavior of all the adults, especially the parents, was downright criminal.
And I figured out the big reveal long, long before the protagonists even got to the point where they figured out there should be one. The suspense was so dead by that point in the story.
In the end, there were no heroes in this book. Only victims and survivors. Including the readers.