The Bird of the River ~ Kage Baker

  • Title: The Bird of the River
  • Author: Kage Baker
  • Genre: Fantasy, YA
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  In this new story set in the world of The Anvil of the World and The House of the Stag, two teenagers join the crew of a huge river barge after their addict mother is drowned. The girl and her half-breed younger brother try to make the barge their new home. As the great boat proceeds up the long river, we see a panorama of cities and cultures, and begin to perceive patterns in the pirate attacks that happen so frequently in the river cities. Eliss, the girl, becomes a sharp-eyed spotter of obstacles in the river for the barge, and more than that, one who perceives deeply.

A young boy her age, Krelan, trained as a professional assassin, has come aboard, seeking the head of a dead nobleman, so that there might be a proper burial. But the head proves as elusive as the real explanation behind the looting of cities, so he needs Eliss’s help. And then there is the massive Captain of the barge, who can perform supernatural tricks, but prefers to stay in his cabin and drink.


I’m tempted to say something generic about this YA book, like ‘a nice little story.’ And it is exactly that, pretty generic too, although it reads well.

The story follows a poor teenage girl, Eliss, a lookout on a river maintenance barge. The barge slowly lumbers up the river, checking for and removing snags (fallen trees and wrecked ships) to keep the river navigable for other ships.

From day to day, Eliss learns her craft, meets people, and basically discovers her niche in life. The novel is a pure ‘coming of age’ tale. A bit of adventure and occasional light-weight hazards the author tosses in her protagonist’s way don’t hurt the story, but the dues ex machina, which saves Eliss and her friend in the end, does. 

The most interesting part of this novel is the world that unfolds on both shores of the river. It has everything in it: poverty and racism, prejudice and vendetta, pirates and demons, although it’s all pretty sketchy. But like the river shores, this world slides past the barge without touching it, and the barge is a microcosm in itself, pretty idyllic too. The characters are flat, and every member of the crew is a friend of everyone else, which I find almost as fantastic as magic. In my experience, any group of people brought together by a job usually has complicated dynamics of amicability and hostility going on. Those are absent in this story, making it a bit bland but a nice diversion all the same. I enjoyed reading it.

Recommended for teenage readers, mostly.