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The Bird of the River Hardcover – July 20, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
Book 3 of 3 in the Lord Ermenwyr Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fans mourning Baker's death earlier this year will be comforted by this gentle conclusion to 2009's The House of the Stag and 2010's The Anvil of the World. Teen Elissa is left orphaned and guilt-ridden when her addict mother dies in a diving accident. She supports herself and her younger half-brother by odd-jobbing on a huge river barge, visiting colorful towns on their way upstream. As Elissa gradually becomes invaluable to the Bird's crew by spotting dangerous river snags, she also learns to see through human subterfuge while accompanying Krelan, lesser son of an assassin family, who's investigating the murder of one of his family's wealthy clients. Satisfyingly exotic local color, a boatload of convincing characters with a captain touched by the supernatural, and a realistic treatment of young love make this an unusually sensitive growing-up tale. (July)
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From Booklist

Baker’s even, fluid writing perfectly complements this sensitive tale set in the same universe as The Anvil of the World (2003) and The House of the Stag (2008). Half-siblings Eliss and Alder encourage their drug-addict mother to sign on as a diver with the river maintenance barge, the Bird of the River. Although their mother dies before they can settle in, they stay with the barge, and Eliss quickly finds her place as an invaluable lookout. Her observational skills are particularly handy in aiding Krelan, a young assassin working undercover to find the murderer of a Diamondcut noble. Alder, however, longs to pursue his Yendri heritage and jumps ship as soon as he is able. As the barge travels upstream, Eliss and Krelan run afoul of bandits who seem to be one step ahead of the port towns they sack. With authentic characters, subtle romance, and convincing dual mysteries, a wandering life on the Bird of the River is a satisfying one indeed. Those mourning Baker’s death in January will be moved by this addition to her legacy. --Krista Hutley

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1 edition (July 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076532296X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765322968
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #445,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By PhoenixFalls VINE VOICE on July 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a melancholy book, both because of its subject matter and because it is likely the last Kage Baker book I will ever see published, given her death last January. The speculative fiction field is lessened by her loss, and this book is a reminder of exactly why.

I suspect I will be in the minority in holding this opinion. It's a slight book, both in length and in that it is one in which not a whole lot happens. The heavy-duty world-building went on in the previous two novels, and this one is essentially nothing more than a gentle coming-of-age travelogue and romance. It has a likeable young protagonist, some light adventure, some not-very-dark secrets, and a happy ending. All of that is usually enough for a young adult audience, which is why I think it will work best when aimed at that reading level.

But that's just the gloss, the stuff the publisher sees (based on the jacket description which, as always with Baker's novels, spoils some things better left unspoiled and gets other things completely wrong). At its core this novel is just as subversive as the two that came before in this gloriously zany fantasy world -- unlike 95% of fantasy written today, it is a novel about the commonplace events that make up the lives of the vast majority of people inhabiting any world, real or imagined. It very gently paints a portrait of the lower classes, the working (and non-working) poor, whose lives are counted so negligibly by the characters portrayed in most fantasy novels. It's about the everyday tragedies of a hard life, and the way small lives get swallowed up by large ones, and the difference that creates in perception.

There is a beautiful passage between Eliss and Krelan where they talk about the way they see the universe.
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Format: Hardcover
Eliss is a teenage girl living an itinerant life with her drug-addicted mother and young brother. Her mother, formerly a successful diver, now has trouble keeping a job because her drug habit has damaged her lungs, but she's given a chance on the Bird of the River, a huge raft-like boat that travels and trades up and down the river on year-long journeys. Eliss shows some talent as a look-out, spotting blockages and snags upriver, and even her young brother Alder, who is half Yendri and has experienced discrimination before, feels at home with the more open-minded crew of the Bird of the River, so life finally seems to settle down... but everything changes when Eliss spots a snag that, upon further examination, proves to be a nobleman's sunken pleasure ship -- containing, among other things, the nobleman's headless corpse.

The Bird of the River is the last novel by Kage Baker, who passed away earlier this year. The novel is set in the same fantasy universe as The Anvil of the World and The House of the Stag, but even though there are some references to the characters and events from the earlier novels, The Bird of the River can be read as a standalone without any knowledge of the previous books.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of Kage Baker's style was her sly tone and dry wit. Unfortunately, this is mostly missing in The Bird of the River. Instead, large chunks of the novel have an almost YA-like tone. In the first half of the novel, the story flows and meanders gently, much like the river on which it is set, and mostly lacks the edge that I loved so much in the author's COMPANY novels, her other fantasies, and especially her excellent short stories.
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The Bird of the River seems at first glance to be a YA novel, given the inferred but never stated ages of its protagonist Eliss (who may be about 15 when the book begins) and her half-brother Alder (who may be about 10). Their mother Falena is in poor health and addicted to "yellow" (a transparent renaming of opium), leaving Eliss in charge of the family's daily survival. Falena is a sea diver, who since her sailor-husband drowned has sought support for herself, and fathers for her children, in a series of disreputable and/or transient "uncles" (some of them gang lords). Eliss pressures Falena into accepting a job on an enormous, colorful barge called "Bird of the River," a permanent home for numerous families and sub-communities. Falena drowns soon after rescuing Wolkin, the mischievous little son of Mr. Riveter, the first mate. The barge therefore becomes the childrens' home and community. Mr. Riveter and his family informally adopt them. Others keep an eye on them, especially the formerly high-class female cartographer Pentra and the enigmatic Captain (who may be at least partly a water god). As the children float up the river and visit various communities, they receive an education in the broader world. (I was at times reminded of Huckleberry Finn.) Alder is taken under the wing of Yendri passenger Mr. Moss, who puts Alder in touch with his half-Yendri heritage and encourages Alder to begin making his own decisions about his future.

The action of the plot, intertwined with this coming-of-age story, begins with Falena's discovery of a corpse in the river (which brought on the heart attack that killed her). Shortly thereafter, a spindly, unattractive boy called Krelan, of about Eliss's age, seeks refuge on the barge.
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