“So I might have mentioned there are two kinds of magic.” Patricia handed Laurence a blueberry pastry and a mug of English Breakfast.

“Good and bad, I’m guessing,” said Laurence, not quite having his mouth full. Patricia’s bathrobe was splayed out on the sofa next to him, and he wondered if he could grab the ring while she wasn’t looking. But then he remembered the part about someone getting pulled back in the nightmare dimension.

“No, though that’s a common misconception.”

Charlie Jane Anders’ first major work won the 2016 Nebula Award for Best Novel.

It’s an impressive accolade, no doubt much appreciated by a writer who has long been connected with and written about SF and Fantasy fandom. Does it merit the award?

Title: All The Birds in the Sky
Author: Charlie Jane Anders
First published January 2016

ISBN-10: 0765379945
ISBN-13: 978-0765379948

Available from Amazon.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and as a kindle.

Premise:

Two bullied teens find each other, and learn each has hidden gifts. Patricia has supernatural powers; Laurence’s home-made computer may be developing sentience.

Years later, they meet again, as an apocalypse looms. Can they stop it? Or are they responsible for it happening?

High Point:

Even the early portion, which I did not entirely like, features some clever bits of invention. We get an assassin, for example, who goes undercover as a guidance counselor, only to get caught up in the lives of the students he’s supposed to assist.

After an immersive if uneven opening, the story grows into a fascinating story of one subculture where supernatural powers exist, and another where science might as well be magic.

The book takes a refreshing approach to the nature of enemies and the problem of evil. Our greatest foes may not be who we expect.

Low Point:

…Some people might not get through the early chapters, which feel very YA (I grant, the characters are in middle school at the time) and very bleak. Our protagonists deal with severe bullying at home and in school. Patricia’s sister and parents have no personality beyond being mean in the case of the former, and abusively clueless in the case of the latter.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 Anders plays creatively with a number of familiar tropes, but they remain familiar tropes. Patricia, bullied girl, turns out to be a chosen one who goes away to a secret academy for witches. Her experiences differ starkly from Harry Potter’s, but it’s difficult to miss the similarities.

Much of the book feels familiar though different in this way.

Imagery: 5/6

Story: 4/6: The story becomes interesting in the middle, with its conflict between science and the supernatural. It grows contrived towards the conclusion and, after significant anticipation of the apocalypse, it concludes rather abruptly.

Characterization: 5/6 Patricia and Laurence have been developed, and their personalities anchor the fantastic story.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Editing: 5/6 Anders’ prose often proves wittily descriptive.

Overall score: 5/6

In total, All the Birds in the Sky receives 33/42