Tayler here, and welcome to the first installment Fantasy Leisure Reading, my (roughly) monthly look into the world fantasy novels! While I can in no way call myself an expert, my interest in this particular literary genre is personal. Not only am I a huge nerd, but I’m a huge nerd who wants to be a fantasy author, so I am coming at these posts as both an impassioned reader and an inspired writer.
Now, I don’t assume that everyone is a fan of fantasy so, as I was perusing my bookshelf for the first book to highlight, I was drawn to one that dips its toes into several genres.
I picked up Charlie Jane Anders’s All the Birds in the Sky on a whim during my trip to NYC this past summer, and it became one of my favorite summer reads. This 2016 debut novel follows the lives of two childhood friends, Patricia Delfine, a young witch developing unknown powers, and Laurence Armstead, a budding engineering genius, as they navigate their very different abilities while entering adulthood. After unexpectedly parting ways in high school, they both become prodigies of their own kind, Patricia to an ancient society of witches and Laurence to a hipster tech start-up in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the earth is threated by imminent environmental ruin, throwing nations into collapse, and the debate over how to save it falls into a bitter feud between science and magic. Patricia and Laurence are forced to take sides. However, their deep connection forged in childhood fates their lives to repeatedly collide.
While at face value Anders’s novel seems to be simply an eclectic mixture of fantasy and science fiction, its veins run much deeper. It asks questions about human connection, about how two people from opposing fields can come together in crisis. Patricia and Laurence’s relationship is equal parts humorous and heartbreaking, fated and forced apart. The solution lies between them, yet their counterparts refuse to see the middle ground they create. Anders also sets her novel against the backdrop of a catastrophic natural disaster in the modern United States and examines how differing schools of thought react to an event of that scale. Both the magical and scientific solutions recognize their inability to save everyone, so the question becomes which few should be saved and for what reasons.
This quirky piece of fiction stole my heart and mind, made me laugh and cry, and called out to be shared. It has many elements of magical realism that accompany its main fantasy and sci-fi themes which makes it a great gateway into those major worlds. I highly recommend All the Birds in the Sky to anyone who wants a fun read that remains rooted in the problems of modern life.
Future Female in Fantasy signing off.
(Cover art by Will Staehle)