Book Reviews, Fantasy

Birds of Paradise by Oliver K. Langmead

Many millennia after the fall of Eden, Adam, the first man in creation, still walks the Earth – exhausted by the endless death and destruction, he is a shadow of his former hope and glory. And he is not the only one. The Garden was deconstructed, its pieces scattered across the world and its inhabitants condemned to live out immortal lives, hiding in plain sight from generations of mankind. But now pieces of the Garden are turning up on the Earth. After centuries of loneliness, Adam, haunted by the golden time at the beginning of Creation, is determined to save the pieces of his long lost home. With the help of Eden’s undying exiles, he must stop Eden becoming the plaything of mankind. As the country floods once more, Adam must risk it all to rescue his friends and his home – because rebuilding the Garden might be the key to rebuilding his life.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Titan Books, for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

What a book! I’m not quite sure what words to use to describe it. It’s certainly something new and unexpected. And look at that beautiful cover art! When I read the blurb, I just had to read it, and was very excited when my request for an eARC was approved. I was not disappointed.

Birds of Paradise opens with a hauntingly beautiful prologue in which Adam and Eve, still in the Garden, pull out their beating hearts and exchange them, before the story skips forward to modern times, when Adam is working as a bodyguard for a famous actress. The action then starts quite quickly after that, which took me a little by surprise, but I enjoyed being launched straight into the story. Now, I find this book hard to summarise, because the basic plot is quite simple (which is not a negative comment), and I don’t want to give too many things away. What I will say is that one of my favourite things about it was the fact that, as well as Adam and Eve being immortal, all the first creatures of Eden still live, wandering the earth, living life after life, because they existed before death. They can also take on human form, which is how Rook – the first one we meet – is both a bird and a partner in the law firm Corvid & Corvid along with his brother Magpie. Other recurring characters are Crow, Owl, Pig, Butterfly, and Crab, and I absolutely loved the interactions between Adam and his creatures. There is so much tenderness and respect there, which leads me to talk about Adam himself.

“Nowadays, he finds it difficult to connect to any of his children. He is consumed by apathy. The binding around his thoughts, each barb a prickle of grief, is to blame. Soon, he thinks, he will have to confront whatever lies at the heart of that tangled growth. He can’t be apathetic forever.”

I’ve seen a plot summary of Birds of Paradise that describes it as “American Gods meets The Chronicles of Narnia,” and while I suppose the talking animals do recall C.S. Lewis’ work, I felt that Adam definitely reminded me of American Gods and it’s main character Shadow. Adam is described multiple times as being a very large man: tall, very muscular, intimidating, and very hard to buy clothes for. And like Shadow, he isn’t always as tough as he looks. Though he’s now worn down by his thousands of years on the earth, and has no scruples being violent when it’s needed, Adam is also very nurturing, and a lot of his inner thinking and his memories are about the many gardens he has tended to throughout his life, starting with the first Garden, and the love he has for Eve. He thinks in terms of gardening, and I loved the little habit he has of collecting seeds from whatever fruit he has eaten, carefully sifting through them to find any that might take and grow.

This book made me feel a lot of things, and I really enjoyed the way Langmead wove the action and the quiet moments, the present and the past, and the natural world with the cities. Birds of Paradise is full of beautiful descriptions, and I think I’ll need to read it again soon to fully appreciate them, but one of the things that stood out the most were the descriptions of cities: the story takes place mostly in the UK, with Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, and Manchester being the main cities featured, and Langmead definitely captured their essences perfectly.

All in all, a magnificent feat of storytelling, and a beautiful interpretation of what could be argued is the first tale. In some ways I wish it had gone on longer, because I didn’t want to leave the pages, but the ending was also perfect, closing the chapter of Adam’s life that we got to witness and leaving the door ajar for the next one.

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