Judge a Book by Its Cover: ‘The Strange Bird’

BRITTANY HOFMANN | Photo Courtesy

How this “judge a book by its cover” series works is that I find a book that has an attractive cover and I read it without knowing at all what it’s about. Sort of like speed dating, but with books. I’m a sucker for creative illustration, so the cover of the short story “The Strange Bird” drew my attention.

“The Strange Bird” was … strange, to say the least — a roller coaster of a story. I guess that’s what I get for grabbing the first book on the shelf that caught my eye.

Also, when reading the book, I soon found out that it was a short story based off a science fiction series by Jeff VanderMeer. This explains why I was so confused by the characters and the storyline. My confusion was leading me toward writing a bad review of the book, but after making this discovery, I had a change of heart.

“The Strange Bird” is from the perspective of the Strange Bird itself, a creature created in a lab set in a dystopian future. This bird is unlike any other creature because it is more human than it is bird. The Strange Bird has only lived in an artificial environment, and when the lab is falling to pieces, she escapes and feels the sun and the sky for the first time.

This experience is beautifully described in a way that I would hope a bird would imagine while flying, especially when they don’t understand what the sun is and how it works.

Something inside the bird, an internal compass, is leading her to a direction, but she doesn’t know why or what her mission is.

The Strange Bird encounters a storm, which knocks her to the ground, and she is nearly buried alive in the sand of the desert, but “The Old Man” saves her. Or so he tells her. Really, he is keeping her prisoner for his own satisfaction because of her beauty.

The bird longs to fly again and uses her ability to camouflage herself in order to escape The Old Man’s prison, but this only angers him. Due to her betrayal, he drugs her and takes her into the cynical city, a place of rust and ruin, to sell her.

As soon as they get to the city though, The Old Man is attacked and dragged into a trap door never to return. In his struggle, the strange bird is injured, but there is still hope. Throughout the entire book, I hoped only for the best for this bird, but time and time again I was disappointed.

The Old Man’s attacker eventually tracks down the Strange Bird and captures her, bringing her back to an abandoned observatory in the city to a woman referred to as the Magician. This is where the book took a turn for the worse and all hope was lost for the Strange Bird.

I had become attached to this animal while reading this book, and my heart broke at all the cruelty she experienced in her short life. The Magician was “magic” only because she took beautiful creatures, especially ones created in the lab, and mutilated them, turning them into something for her own selfish use.

For the Strange Bird, this meant being turned into a cloak for her feather’s camouflaging abilities.

The Strange Bird lived for years as this cloak, always wishing to fly again, and eventually her inner compass begins to fade and she nears death. With the help of other animals and another man named Wick, she comes to life again and is transformed into four new birds. The Strange Bird becomes the strange birds. With new life, they can return to the mission that they were set out to accomplish.

Despite the sadness the bird experienced throughout the book, I appreciated VanderMeer’s ability to make me attached to her character and that he gave her the happy ending she deserved — reunited with another creature just like herself, another strange bird.

“The Strange Bird” was an incredibly quick read and was a wild adventure from start to finish. After reading this short story based off the “Borne” series by VanderMeer, I will be returning to the library to read the rest of the story.

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