I’m not sure why, but this isn’t what I expected from All the Birds in the Sky. For some reason, I anticipated a poetic, metaphysical, romantic, very adult literary story. I wasn’t sure I’d want that, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I don’t mean to say that this book isn’t any of those things. It is a bit of all of those, except that it’s less adult and more romantic than I anticipated. I liked it more than I expected to.
While I liked the book, I did think it lacked direction. The characters start strong, but then meander around, almost entirely avoiding the book’s initial framing, occasionally running into each other again. I felt that Anders had skipped some of the most interesting portions of their lives, and left us with the more humdrum element, though also the ones most immediately contributing to her plot. For example, Patricia, the witch in the story, follows the orders of a man named Kawashima, but we never learn why. Anders adds an author’s note saying “if it seemed too random”, and I’d have to say that captures some of my feeling. Things happen, and they’re sometimes interesting things, but I didn’t feel there was a strong organic drive to the plot.
There’s also some inconsistency and a need for continuity edits. The moral and emotional elements are at times heavy handed, at times too flat and distant. The overall structure of the book is on the choppy side. The posited dilemma – the battle of science and magic – is a pretty familiar one.
At the same time, I liked the prose and the characters in the short run – moment by moment, even if I wasn’t as interested in their long-term arcs. In short, the book is a mix of strengths and weaknesses. This book didn’t sell me on Anders, and I don’t think I could say I know what all the fuss was about, but I could see another, more polished work winning me over.