Ray Gun Reviews
SF/F reviews — and ray guns!

The Bird of the River by Kage Baker

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The Bird of the River by Kage Baker
Tor Books, 2010, 272 pp.

There is a bit of sadness here: Kage Baker is one of my favorite authors, yet with her death this past winter, there are not going to be many new books coming from her. The Bird of the River may be one of her very last new books.

Up until now, her fantasy world of the Children of the Sun was enjoyable, but it paled next to her science-fictional Company stories. However, with The Bird of the River, I think she just might have, with her final novel, shown the great potential that that world always promised, but never fully delivered.

This time out we follow the adventures of teenager Eliss whose drug-addicted mother has brought up Eliss and her half-breed brother, Alder, in poverty. Eliss has often had to take control of the family in order to keep them from starving. Eliss’s latest adventure is to return her mother to her roots as a river diver. They become a part of the crew of The Bird of the River, a barge that goes up and down the river, removing snagged trees and harvesting its lumber. However, on her first dive, Eliss’s mother encounters a corpse and dies from what appears to be a heart attack.

Eliss and Alder are left alone on The Bird. The crew takes them in and gives them jobs on the barge. Soon, Krelan, a young noble on the run from a family vendetta, joins them and he and Eliss strike up a friendship, even though there is more to Krelan than meets the eye.

The storyline for the novel is mostly about the origin of the body that Eliss’s mother finds, but thematically, the book is about growing beyond one’s upbringing, whether it’s growing beyond poverty and despair, as with Eliss, or growing beyond familial obligation, as Krelan must do.

As is to be expected with a Kage Baker novel, the characters are all well-drawn and very fleshed out. As was evident from her first novel to this, her last, Ms Baker is able with just a few words to create believable and sophisticated characters. As I have done with all of Ms Baker’s books, I first read this one aloud to my wife in the evening. And, as with all of her novels, we ripped through it at a much faster pace than other books, wanting to rush to the end, but being disappointed when we got there, knowing we’d have to wait for the next novel to come out. Sadly, there won’t be any more ‘next novels.’ Still, Ms Baker left quite an opus in the short time she was writing, so there’s still a lot to return to re-read over and over again.

You’re already missed, Kage.

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