By: Simon Jimenez
Nia Imani is a woman out of place and outside of time. Decades of travel through the stars are condensed into mere months for her, though the years continue to march steadily onward for everyone she has ever known. Her friends and lovers have aged past her; all she has left is work. Alone and adrift, she lives only for the next paycheck, until the day she meets a mysterious boy, fallen from the sky.
A boy, broken by his past.
The scarred child does not speak, his only form of communication the beautiful and haunting music he plays on an old wooden flute. Captured by his songs and their strange, immediate connection, Nia decides to take the boy in. And over years of starlit travel, these two outsiders discover in each other the things they lack. For him, a home, a place of love and safety. For her, an anchor to the world outside of herself.
For both, a family.
But Nia is not the only one who wants the boy. The past hungers for him, and when it catches up, it threatens to tear this makeshift family apart.
A surprisingly dense story that constantly provided new revelations/perspectives and felt like it took more hours to read than A History of Wild Places. For a sci-fi novel, there are space-traveling elements, but the story never becomes overly technical, so readers need not fear any misunderstandings with the world-building. At least in my opinion, it was straightforward. The politics in this story were unique because the various stations are run by a tribunal which is owned and operated by one corporation. The corporation’s decisions and policies have an active effect on the outcome of the story, and I think Jimenez’s inclusion of the corporation’s greed had the intended effect.
A warning for readers so you aren’t misled like I was. This isn’t some heart-warming, found-family narrative to read when you want to feel good about the world. This book has emotional themes which are reeled in for about 75% of the story until the last 25% suddenly slaps you in the face. To the point where I had to reconcile the shift in narrative and ask “Wait, did that really just happen?” That last quarter of the book hit heavily and became a gut-wrenching years-long journey that is not for people who are squeamish or looking for a story that will give them comfort.
The Vanished Birds is divided into longer chapters that sometimes span over 30 pages. This might not be the book you feel you can read for 5-10 minutes at a time. Personally, I found it the most enjoyable to read anywhere between 50-70 pages a day for maximum effect and to know I got through a couple of chapters. I recognize others could read a lot more a lot faster than me but I was pretty happy with 70 pages in a day when I could get it.
The prose is remarkable from page one, so I knew as soon as I started reading that I had found something special. While it didn’t turn into the story I thought it would, it was the story it needed to be, and I give Jimenez credit for his creative plot and twists.
The only thing I wish there was more of were flashbacks to the previous lives of the Debby crew. I think I would have felt more of a connection with them if I had learned more about them. Other than that, I highly recommend this story! One of my favorite reads so far this year.
Overall rating: 5
P.S. If you aren’t a fan of time dilation, I would not recommend this story as it’s a significant part of the narrative.