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The Bird of the River by Kage Baker

The Bird of the River (original 2010; edition 2010)

by Kage Baker

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16511109,917 (4.04)2
Title:The Bird of the River
Authors:Kage Baker
Info:Tor Books (2010), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fantasy, river

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The Bird of the River by Kage Baker (2010)


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A beautiful story of a young woman traveling along a river. Eliss is smart, observant, and hard-working, and if she were any less competent she and her brother would probably be dead in a ditch somewhere. Instead, her tenacious dedication to survival means that her brother can explore the meaning of his mixed heritage and Eliss can slowly come to understand her own character and that of her lost mother.

This is set in the same fantasy world as [b:The House of the Stag|3213520|The House of the Stag|Kage Baker|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1312058116s/3213520.jpg|3247292] and [b:Anvil of the World|297815|The Anvil of the World|Kage Baker|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1312054576s/297815.jpg|288949]. Like those, issues of oppression and discrimination based on sex, race and class are ever-present but always lightly handled. Magic is threaded throughout, but never overwhelming--it's just a part of the characters' lives, not the solution to all their problems and certainly never a deus ex machina. The world building is top-notch here--the world is consistent and coherent, but never boring.

And some of that excellence is due to where Baker chose to focus her gaze. Instead of powerful people making decisions that bend the world, she chose to write about the lives of a ship's crew, who have little money and less power. This subversion of the usual fantasy storyline makes the dialog, personalities and character growth shine all the more because they're so unexpected. A song is written about Eliss's mother, and Eliss is at first furious, because it turns her mother's dingy life of poor choices into an epic tragedy. She's slightly reconciled to it when one of her mother's fellow divers mentions how grateful she is that finally, they have a song about a diver, no matter how truthful it is. Eventually, Eliss begins to come to terms with the idea that her mother was a silly woman who let her children down--but she was also a woman who'd suffered terrible personal tragedy.

I mentioned the dialog earlier, and I want to emphasize that it fantastic. It always feels natural and organic to the character, and it is dashed through with sparks of wit. By the end of this book, I felt like I knew each of the characters, that I'd shared bunk-space with them, that I'd eaten dinner beside them. I wish the book hadn't ended, because I miss them. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
I am so very sad that there will be no more books set in this world. Story aside, this is just one of those fantasy worlds that you want to fall into and live in for a while… maybe not permanently, as this story and the preceding two novels, Anvil of the World and House of the Stag, show, it’s not a perfect world. It’s gritty, and plagued by many of the same social ills as our own: racism, drug abuse, casual cruelty, the oppression of the poor by the rich… but there’s also a beauty and life to these that’s just pure enjoyment.

More so than the previous two books, this book is definitely YA – but also, less humor-oriented. A young woman, Eliss, is left orphaned and the sole caretaker of her younger, half-Yendri brother, Alder. The children have been victims of their mother’s poor choices for long before her death, and it’s a struggle for both of them to find and come to terms with their identity – and the facts that identity might not be the same for them both, and that their paths may lead in different directions.

I usually have a very low tolerance for books that bring up too many ‘issues’ – but while Bird of the River is quite chock-full of issues and definitely has strong (and positive) messages, they flow so naturally and believably out of the scenarios created here that I had not even a miniscule objection. The story is powerful and effective without being preachy.

Baker also draws a picture of daily life on a working riverboat which, although far from glamorous, is utterly believable (ok, except maybe for the mysterious magical parts). And, there’s also a murder mystery/adventure, and a bit of romance. Good fun on top, and a lot more to think about if you care to spend the time… I think if I had read this when I was 12 or 13, it would’ve been one of my all-time favorites. As it is, I really, really liked it. (And Penta, the cartographer, is amazing.)

I’d recommend this for all 13-yr-olds, all Kage Baker fans, and anyone who liked Robin Hobb’s Liveship books. (They’re not that similar, but something about the feel and the characterization, as well as the shipboard setting, reminded me of them…)
( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
This book was a short, quick read, but it was entertaining. It’s set in the same world as The Anvil of the World and The House of the Stag, but it has no significant connection with either book and it stands well on its own. Chronologically speaking, it definitely takes place after The House of the Stag, but I couldn’t say with any certainty where it fits in comparison with The Anvil of the World.

The story takes place entirely from the perspective of a teenage girl, Eliss, although it’s written in the third-person perspective. Her mother is a drug addict, her father is dead, and she has a 10-year-old half-brother who is of mixed race. They are barely scraping by, both because her mother is of no use and because they face a lot of prejudice when people see her brother. At the beginning of the book, the mother manages to get a job (mostly thanks to Eliss) on a huge river barge that sails up and down a very long river, stopping at various towns. This barge is the setting for the majority of the book.

There are some mysteries to solve – What’s up with the captain of the barge? What does the boy who joined the barge shortly after Eliss did really want? Where is the head of the dead body that was found? Who killed him? How are the bandits raiding the towns along the river so effectively? However, despite these questions, the story was pretty straight-forward and many of the answers were easy to guess from early on in the story. There was some twists (at least, I assume they were supposed to be twists) that I had guessed were coming from early on.

But even though there wasn’t anything earth shaking here, I still really enjoyed it. I liked and sympathized with the character of Eliss. She’s practical, intelligent, proactive, and determined not to make the same mistakes in life that her mother did. It was interesting to read about life on the barge, and to see all of the different towns that they stopped at on their way up the river. The story kept me reading to find out what would happen next and discover whether any of my predictions were correct.

Eliss’ brother seemed like a potentially interesting character, although he didn’t really do much more than act sullen and angry most of the time. He has some interesting experiences as well, but most of that takes place “off the page” because Eliss isn’t a direct witness. I think, if the author were still alive, he would have made an interesting subject for a fourth book in the series.

The ending wrapped everything up well and was satisfying, with a brief epilogue set four years in the future to help satisfy my curiosity about whether or not events continued on their expected course. ( )
  YouKneeK | Dec 29, 2014 |
Technically a 3.5. Likeable characters, good world-building and setting. But deus ex machina makes me feel tired and a little spiteful, and I kept expecting, and never quite getting, to get deeper into character motivations and emotional story arcs.

Still, an engaging read, and I plan on reading the other books the author has set in this world. ( )
  eaterofwords | Nov 16, 2014 |
LOVE. Totally different from "The Company" books, except in the quality of the writing and the quirky realness of the characters. The main character's complicated relationship with her mother, her brother, and the rest of the world is delicately and thoughtfully drawn. Plus it's got just enough plot to keep pulling you forward.

(I almost cried after finishing, seeing "1952-2010" under her name. So very sad that there won't be any more of these.) ( )
  epersonae | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kage Bakerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kidd, TomCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 076532296X, Hardcover)

In this new story set in the world of The Anvil of the World and The House of the Stag, two teenagers join the crew of a huge river barge after their addict mother is drowned. The girl and her half-breed younger brother try to make the barge their new home. As the great boat proceeds up the long river, we see a panorama of cities and cultures, and begin to perceive patterns in the pirate attacks that happen so frequently in the river cities. Eliss, the girl, becomes a sharp-eyed spotter of obstacles in the river for the barge, and more than that, one who perceives deeply.

A young boy her age, Krelan, trained as a professional assassin, has come aboard, seeking the head of a dead nobleman, so that there might be a proper burial. But the head proves as elusive as the real explanation behind the looting of cities, so he needs Eliss’s help. And then there is the massive Captain of the barge, who can perform supernatural tricks, but prefers to stay in his cabin and drink.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:10 -0400)

Sharp-eyed orphan Eliss and her half-brother make a new home on a river barge and clash with a teen assassin amid an escalating series of pirate attacks on riverside cities.

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