I bought this book for its intriguing cover for just 99p from a charity shop. Buying books for their pretty covers has backfired on me a number of times, but the gamble paid off on this occasion as The Conjuror’s Bird by Martin Davies was both an exciting and a thought-provoking read.
The book has two narratives set in different time periods running alongside each other: a present-day mystery revolving around the hunt for the “Mysterious Bird of Ulieta” – a missing extinct bird specimen; and the story of the 18th century naturalist Joseph Banks, his romance with a mystery mistress, and how he ended up owning the Ulieta Bird that was originally caught on one of Captain Cook’s expeditions. In a roundabout way this second storyline comes to explain how the Ulieta bird went missing, but is actually in itself more of a historical romance between Banks and the intriguing mystery woman who became his mistress (a very interesting character!). The two storylines were distinguished in this version by completely different typefaces, as well as distinctive writing styles, which worked really well.
I really enjoyed reading this book and it was written in a way that made it difficult to put down. (I always like to end a reading session on a chapter break, which becomes difficult when authors like to and every chapter with a cliff-hanger or significant development!). What I really liked about the book was the way it was built around real-life historical facts about Joseph Banks’ life, his mystery mistress, his expeditions and also the actual facts known about the missing Ulieta bird.
I can also see how this book would be an interesting one for book groups, as it looks at the issues of conservation and species extinction, and the theme of “losing things”. I found really interesting to view the mystery of the bird from two perspectives – from the present day where it is seem as a rare and valuable object because it is no longer around, vs the past where it just a new species of bird with no extraordinary features and was therefore easily lost in time. It makes you think about how you don’t realise the value of something until it’s gone….
I’d recommend this book, as it was a nice and enjoyable one to read.