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BOOK REVIEW: The Bird’s Child by Sandra Leigh Price

| 17 April 2015 | 2 Replies

BOOK REVIEW: The Bird’s Child by Sandra Leigh Price 

Fourth Estate
April 2015
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell



Sydney, 1929: Three people find themselves washed up on the steps of Miss Du Maurier’s bohemian boarding house, a once grand terrace in Newtown.   

Ari is a young Jewish man, a pogrom orphan, who lives under the stern rule of his rabbi uncle, but dreams his father is Houdini. Upon his hand he bears a forbidden mark – a tattoo – and has a secret ambition to be a magician.

My heart pounded, Hou-din-i, Hou-din-i, his name my private incantation. How many times had I said it over and over in my head to block out the past? Everyone knew who Houdini was, but I always thought of him as mine, my own, my phantom father. To hear his name spoken by her laid me bare. Who was she?

Runaway Lily has a heartbreaking past of her own that she’s trying to escape.

‘They are fragile things, Til the Lil, so many tiny bones, some fine as hairs. They’ve just knocked themselves senseless against the window, can’t tell their head from their tail. When they are hurt they long to be back in the egg again, so best keep them warm and dark to mend.’

Finding an injured parrot one day on the street, Ari is unsure of how to care for it, until he meets Lily, a glimmering girl after his own abracadabra heart, and together they form a magical act sure to be a hit.

But their lives take a strange twist when wild card Billy, a charming and dangerous drifter twisted by the war, can no longer harbour secret desires of his own.

The noisy room had trickled slowly to silence, guests turning to look at her, my Lily-at-a-loss-for-words. Oh, I could have given her words to sing, like a ventriloquist’s doll she would speak at my direction.


The Bird’s Child offered up a really interesting idea, set in that time between world wars when chivalry wasn’t dead but neither was racism. A time of miracle elixirs, sleight-of-hand tricks, and carnivals.

But it took a while to get going, and focused more on the romance, the insta-love and obsession, than on the perfecting of a magic show.

There was no real impression of the passing of time, so it seemed as though Ari and Lily obtained and trained the birds for their magic show without any complications or reluctance from the birds. Obviously, this harks back to a magician never telling his secrets and to Lily having a way with birds, but it would have been good, as a reader, to see more about their work behind the scenes.

The pace of the story really picked up around the two-hundred page mark, with the introduction of the third point of view, and finally learning the most important parts of Billy’s and Lily’s respective pasts.


The Bird’s Child is beautifully written, and the author really knows how to turn a phrase and to give the reader a clear image of the scene, to get them to cheer certain characters on and long for the demise of others.

But the characters also brought a lot of the problems.

The three characters came from different walks of life, each with different personal and religious beliefs from the others, but all read very similarly. The main difference between the three was the topics they focused on – while their manner of speaking and the language that they used were largely the same.

Perhaps, in an effort to bring diversity to the characters, the author created a girl who was very naive and jumped to the worst conclusions; one guy who was well-behaved, all goodness and innocence, but didn’t want to live the life his uncle had chosen for him; and, at contrast to this, a man who is so very twisted, so very self-assured and arrogant that you have no choice but to hate him.

Even at his lowest, even when other people were doing wrong by Billy, you couldn’t wish him well, you couldn’t feel sorry for him. Billy, in being so very detestable and having no redeeming qualities, was two-dimensional. He wasn’t a good guy, not even in the slightest. He thought he was charming, he loved having power over people, he thought he was the only one who mattered, and he was detestable to the end.

In this reviewer’s opinion, the best despicable characters are the ones that make you question your own person when you find yourself liking some part of them. Billy, on the other hand, felt like an attempt to inject some personality into the story, while at the same time getting the reader under thumb, preaching to them about who they should like and who they should detest.

The most annoying thing about this was that Billy was the character with the most to him and the others, while good people, were like cardboard cutouts in comparison.


This had the potential to be a great historical romance with magical elements, but in the end it was light on the magic, rather heavy on the romance, and everything seemed to come a little too easily to the characters. Perhaps, if the reader had been allowed in on the rehearsals for the magic show, Ari’s and Lily’s personalities might have shone more brightly.

Despite this, it was an engrossing read after the two-hundred page mark, with the first half of the novel maybe rating around four stars, but the latter half coming in at a six. I will be keeping an eye out for future novels by this author. 

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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Comments (2)

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  1. Lisa Hill says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful review. To be honest, I am considering abandoning this because, having read 71 pages of it, I’m just not finding it very interesting, and there’s another 300 pages to go.
    It needed a good editor IMO.

  2. Stephanie O'Connell says:

    It definitely needed some more thorough editing… and some emotion!

    While I’ve read some truly awful books before, it’s the mediocre ones that really drag, and I probably would have put it aside if it hadn’t been for review.

    It does pick up the pace a little, around halfway through, and my favourite parts were about Billy’s past because they felt more like the story I was hoping for, even if I was never able to connect with him, even then. Don’t even get me started on the stuff that happens in the Blue Mountains. Boring, and lame, and full of dues ex machina if you ask me.

    There was no great reward or “Aha!” moment at the end, but it was alright.

    Thanks for commenting, Lisa!

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