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

Surely, it’s against the rules for a first novel to be this ingenious? Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky (2016) is just that, though, an extraordinary genre mash-up that mixes quirky humor and geek-love romance with big ideas and serious subtext, all to memorable effect.

It chronicles the exploits of Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead, two oddball children destined to grow up to be exceptional adults, their life paths intertwined. They’re very different: Patricia can talk to animals and has a peculiar connection with nature, while Laurence is a prodigy who builds his own time machine (of sorts) and longs to venture into space. But they do have one thing in common: they’re both social outcasts in the same school, isolated in their secret pursuits. As the years pass, they veer into and out of each other’s lives, unaware that ultimately they’ll each take up sides in a fateful confrontation between magic and technology, with the fate of the Earth in the balance.

With its inventive worldbuilding and compelling voice, All the Birds in the Sky is one of those rare books that feels special right on page one, inviting the reader effortlessly into a confident, colorful, highly unusual narrative. Patricia and Laurence are distinctive and accessible protagonists, and while they serve as metaphorical stand-ins for the two dominant sides of the genre fiction coin, they are much more than that, nuanced and likable. Their separate journeys are cleverly intertwined, and their awkward, outsider struggles are convincingly rendered—something to which many lifelong readers of speculative fiction can surely relate. That may be a key to the novel’s appeal and genius: it speaks to the passionate genre reader with familiar sentiment, but utterly original approach. A sensational debut that  may be the ultimate love letter to fantasy and science fiction.

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