A gorgeous, almost dream-like meditation on dissociation, love, belonging and grief, punctuated by flashes of violence and pain, Birds Of Paradise follows the first man, Adam, as he’s making his way through modern life. When a Hollywood security gig goes awry, he’s hustled out of the country by Rook, who along with several other of the first birds have formed the legal company Corvid & Corvid to secure the interests of the original inhabitants of Eden. The first animals can all switch seamlessly to human form and, like Adam, are undying.
Rook needs a favor from Adam, whose many millennia of existence have trained him in all manner of skills including fighting and survival. While each of the Corvids are individually wealthy, Magpie has started spending more of his brother’s money than usual, and has proven difficult for the busy Rook to track down. With Crow, Adam is sent to Edinburgh to find Magpie and find out what’s going on. But Scotland is also where Eve is, and Adam doesn’t know if he’s ready to face her again. As Adam traverses the British isles, he discovers both wondrous news and a grave threat to the scattered inhabitants of Eden. How far is he willing to go to get to the bottom of it all, and how much of his own long and painful past is he willing to face?
For being about an immortal — hardly the most immediately relatable situation — this book is such a mood. Adam is the ultimate survivor, and it’s taken an extraordinary toll on him, one that he wears like a buffering suit against the world. He is often baffled by modern life and modern people, so far removed from the simplicity of the original garden, when his life was one of tending to his charges and living in harmony with them and with his beloved. While Eve through the ages chose to study the human pursuits of medicine and architecture, Adam was content to garden and provide what necessary labor, for fighting or building, that their situation required. While Eve chose to actively engage with her descendants, Adam preferred books and to live at a remove. So the scenes where Adam is forced to interact with great numbers of his children should feel weird but instead come across as almost magical, whether it’s at a Pride parade in London or with a group of football-playing kids in Manchester. Positive social contact, especially for someone as singular and alone as Adam, is depicted as a gift, a reason for Adam to keep choosing to stay amidst humanity despite the horrifically negative contact he’ll occasionally encounter.
I don’t really want to say too much about the rest of the book for fear of giving the plot away, but I must say that the entire concept of dominion was really, really well handled here. Oliver K Langmead pulls no punches in his critique of certain aspects of Christian society — the kind that think that being white and wealthy conveys an innate superiority over everything else — so the clash between modern evil and a timeless, necessary violence feels cathartic to those of us unwilling to submit to an oligarchy that views the out-group as being lesser or even less than human. BoP is a bold fable rooted deep in religious mythology that holds up a mirror to modern society for all our good and evil, touching on climate change and inclusion, and urging stewardship over dominion, all wrapped up in a beautiful, sad parable for the ages.
We’ve been given the opportunity to interview Mr Langmead, so look out for that April 9th!
Birds Of Paradise by Oliver K. Langmead publishes today March 30th 2021 by Titan Books and is available from all good booksellers, including
Want it now? For the Kindle version, click here.