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The Bird of the River

The Bird of the River

5.0 4
by Kage Baker

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

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)
Kirkus Reviews
From Baker, who died in January 2010, a third fantasy set in a world inhabited by red-skinned Children of the Sun, green-skinned, forest-dwelling Yendri and tusked, barbaric demons (The House of the Stag, 2008, etc.). At the urging of her children, teenaged Eliss and ten-year-old, half-Yendri Alder, drug-addicted diver Falena signs on the huge river-maintenance barge of the title for the long voyage up and down a vast unnamed river. All divers are female, and their primary job is to secure "snags," trees caught underwater that cause navigation hazards. Once recovered, snags are a source of valuable timber-the Yendri don't take kindly to the felling of live trees. Then when diving for a snag, Falena confronts a headless corpse, suffers a heart attack and is dead before she can be hauled back aboard. Eliss finds gainful employment as masthead lookout, a job she's very good at. Joining the vessel as a busboy is Krelan, whose family works for the aristocratic Diamondcuts and whose purpose is to find and return the missing head. Alder tires of jibes about "greenies" and runs off into the forest to find his father. The barge works its way up the river, calling at towns that have been or are about to be attacked by curiously well-organized and well-informed bandits. A vivid setting, then, with minimal fantasy elements, agreeably complemented by solid plotting, mysteries, surprises and characters that grow in the telling. A sparkling farewell from a writer whose illustrious career proved all too brief.

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Kage Baker was an artist, actor, and director at the Living History Centre and taught Elizabethan English as a Second Language. Born in 1952 in Hollywood, she lived in Pismo Beach, California, the Clam Capital of the World. She died on January 31, 2010.

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Bird of the River 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
PhoenixFalls More than 1 year ago
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. Krelan, living amongst the nobility his entire life, waxes on about how ordered the world is, the strict hierarchies keeping everyone in balance, in their place. And Eliss, whose idea of luxury is eating at a Red House (an establishment Krelan thinks terribly declasse) breaks in to say "But there isn't any balance. That's just made up. A Diamondcut can end up dead in the river mud, and a demon can fall in love with a goddess. Things just happen. Sometimes they're even good things." That viewpoint is exactly the viewpoint so often missing from fantasy worlds. This loosely related trilogy, no matter its outer trappings, has always been about the value in seeking happiness, in forming families, in striving to be true to individuals rather than principles, and in enjoying life today, because it is a fragile thing. And that message, when delivered in such a gently beguiling way, is one I hope resonates with everyone who reads it.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In spite of her pledge to her two offspring to lay off the drug, Falena could not resist smoking Yellow that has them wandering from town to town seeking either a diving gig or an uncle; though the latter has become infrequent as her looks have faded. Making her mom feel guilty, teen Eliss persuades Falena to dive so they can pay their bills although her mother insists she is too weak. Falena dies diving leaving Eliss filled with remorse and regret as well as caring for her ten year old half-brother Alder. Eliss keeps them fed and somewhat sheltered by doing odd jobs on the river that took their mom. Eventually the Bird's crew begins to realize she is an asset as she warns them of potentially danger spots in the river like tree snags and pirates. Krelan, a minor assassin family's son her age, teaches her to read people who use masks and ruses to conceal their agendas. She assists him as he investigates the murder of a wealthy client starting with claiming the head. Set in the world of The House of the Stag and The Anvil of the World, The Bird of The River is a great epic fantasy starring a wonderful heroine supported by the men in her life. The story line is filled with the activities of the long river as Eliss and her entourage meanders along while working on the mystery of the severed head, who the pirates are and what the captain is. Kage Baker, who died a few months ago, will please her myriad of devoted readers with this strong tribute to her talent. Harriet Klausner