The Vanished Birds

Something about Simon Jimenez's debut intrigued me. To this day, I can't really say what it was. Perhaps it's the fact that everyone seemed to agree that the book was impossible to confine to one genre category. Now that I've read it, it's evident that The Vanished Birds defies all labels. This might be a boon to some readers. But for others, like me, it could make for a novel that's decidedly difficult to get into.

The Vanished Birds is a well-written debut, no doubt about it. It's just that the plot meanders all over the place, often leaving readers completely lost and wondering what the heck is going on. And in the end, although there are signs of brilliance here and there, this book left me totally indifferent.

Here's the blurb:

A solitary ship captain, drifting through time.

Nia Imani is a woman out of place. Traveling through the stars condenses decades 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. She lives only for the next paycheck, until the day she meets a mysterious boy, fallen from the sky.

A mute child, burdened with unimaginable power.

The scarred boy does not speak, his only form of communication the haunting music he plays on an old wooden flute. Captured by his songs and otherworldly nature, Nia decides to take the boy in to live amongst her crew. Soon, 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 of them, a family. But Nia is not the only one who wants the boy.

A millennia-old woman, poised to burn down the future.

Fumiko Nakajima designed the ships that allowed humanity to flee a dying Earth. One thousand years later, she now regrets what she has done in the name of progress. When chance brings Fumiko, Nia, and the child together, she recognizes the potential of his gifts, and what will happen if the ruling powers discover him. So she sends the pair to the distant corners of space to hide them as she crafts a plan to redeem her old mistakes.

But time is running out. The past hungers for the boy, and when it catches up, it threatens to tear this makeshift family apart.

Though it can be considered a science fiction work, Jiminez's The Vanished Birds is more a tale of interpersonal relationships and the emotional connections that bond people together. In many ways, it's an ensemble of love stories unfolding across different timelines that span centuries. At its core, it's a very emo novel. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But it's not something I expected, nor is it something I would have been keen to read had I known it would be the case.

Simon Jimenez's lyrical prose makes for a beautifully written novel, and this was one of my favorite facets of The Vanished Birds. Even when nothing happens, the author creates an arresting imagery that fills the mind with wonders. Jimenez came up with some well-drawn weird and exotic locales, many of which I would have loved to discover more about.

The book features the perspectives of three main protagonists. Nia Imani, ship captain approaching the end of her current contract and unsure as to what comes next. Ahro, mute boy full of scars whose only means of communication is the soul-stirring music he plays on his flute. And Fumiko Nakajima, a brilliant scientist whose discoveries have permitted mankind to take to the stars. Though quite disparate in every way, at one point in time their paths will cross, changing the world in the process. Trouble is, it takes a mighty long time for Jiminez to finally reveal what The Vanished Birds is ultimately about. With the plot seemingly going nowhere, as the story progresses one slowly loses interest. By the time things picked up and the various threads came together and were moving forward toward what appeared to be a compelling finale, I had become totally indifferent to what was taking place.

There is no way to sugarcoat this. The pace is atrocious for the better part of the novel. Once the truth about Ahro is unveiled and Fumiko Nakajima's plan for him becomes clear, the rhythm improves a little. Still, even when the plot starts to move forward with more fluidity, The Vanished Birds remains a slow-moving affair.

If you are looking for an extremely emo work that explores themes such as love, relationships, corporate greed and capitalism, colonialism, technological wonders that change the course of humanity, mass tourism and its repercussions on the environment and its inhabitants, and more, Simon Jiminez's The Vanished Birds just might be what the doctor ordered.

The final verdict: 6.5/10

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