Ann Walker (Ann Walker) is well past the point of being embarrassed to say she’s a fantasy fan. When people try to talk to her about spy thrillers or romantic comedies, she smiles politely and hopes her eyes aren’t glazing over too obviously. Ann loves character-driven stories with rich, detailed world building. Her favorite authors, unsurprisingly, are Ellen Kushner, Robin Hobb, and Lisa Barnett. When she’s not reading, she’s doing yoga; when she’s doing yoga, she’s thinking about what she’s been reading, even though she knows she shouldn’t be.
I needed to start my WoGF reading somewhere, and I had heard of Kage Baker, so I figured she would be a good place. I looked at some recommendations, chose the book with the highest reader rating, put in the request at my library, and sat down to wait. While I was waiting, I started reading the e-book, The Best of Kage Baker. The stories (mostly from The Company series) were enjoyable, but I didn’t really find them anything special.
Then I started reading The Bird of the River, and within the first twenty pages I was absolutely captivated.
First of all, the world building, one of my favorite aspects of fantasy, was rich and detailed, but unique in that the focus was not on wizards and princes but everyday people, working at everyday jobs – salvage workers, cooks, itinerant musicians. Real people in a real world that had some fantastical elements. The next aspect that delighted me was the joyful, lyrical language. Even when the subject matter was not in itself joyful or lyrical (more along the lines of the nitty-gritty of life) the writing was simply beautiful.
The nitty-gritty of life: that’s what this book is mainly about. Poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, racism. But also the joy of finding your own way in life, your own unique skills and abilities, finding your place in the community, and making your future. It’s a YA book, so these issues are handled from a YA perspective, but the themes are universal.
There are two other books set in this same world, and as soon as they arrive from my library, I’ll put my WoGF challenge reading on hold for a bit (it won’t take long) and devour those two books. I wish I could review more articulately, to enumerate in detail with examples from the text, but I’m not that type of reviewer, I’m afraid – it’s all heartfelt and gut-felt from me. So a heartfelt, “Thank you, WoGF Challenge!” If not for you, I would never have discovered Kage Baker and this wondrous world.