The Conjuror’s Bird

ISBN: 0340896167
ISBN 13: 9780340896167
By: Martin Davies

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2006 Currently Reading Default Favorites Fiction Historical Historical Fiction Mystery Romance To Read

About this book

In 1774, an unusual bird was spotted on Captain Cook's second expedition to the South Seas. This single specimen was captured, preserved, and brought back to England and no other bird of its kind was ever seen again. The bird was given to naturalist Joseph Banks, who displayed it proudly in his collection until it too disappeared. Were it not for a colored drawing created by the ship's artist, it would seem that the Mysterious Bird of Ulieta had never existed.Two hundred years later, naturalist John Fitzgerald gets a call from an old friend asking him to join the search for the bird's remains. He traces the bird's history, uncovering surprising details about the role of a woman known only as Miss B in Joseph Banks's life and career. Could she be the key to solving the mystery to finally finding the lost Bird of Ulieta? Seamlessly leaping between two time periods,The Conjurer's Bird is at once the story of Joseph Banks's secret life and of Fitz's thrilling and near-impossible race to find the elusive bird

Reader's Thoughts


I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The ending was not completely satisfying, but I liked that too. The author technique of unfolding each story slowly in each chapter captivated my interest from the beginning. Switching voice from first person to third person was interesting and helped differentiate the chapters. The characters for the most part were very human and believable. I enjoyed the authors writing which kept me turning pages and made me look forward to the next reading.The historical information at the end made the book more interesting.

Julie Hulten

I enjoyed reading this book - intertwining stories past and present. It was recommended to me by a friend who "couldn't put it down". That was not my experience so I didn't rate it higher than 'liked' it. I very much wanted to know more about Miss B___n. The search for the illusive facts regarding this woman was the kind of 'ride' I enjoy ... following the bits of information to flesh out a person - the 'bird' was secondary to the hunt for the details of her life.

Joana Almeida

Gostei imenso deste livrinho, comprei-o tão barato, sem saber nada sobre ele, que não tinha quaisqueres expectativas, mas acabei por ler uma bela obra.


I loved this book. Was a bit skeptical at first, as I hate to jump on the Richard and Judy bandwagon! I also, on the whole, dislike male narrators (I know, totally subjective).Well, this novel is full of surprising twists and turns, it keeps you guessing until the final few pages as to what happened to the mysterious bird and Banks' mistress (don't worry, they aren't the same thing!).In addition the dual narrative, one set in the past and one in the present, worked effectively. It didn't just fill the plot or eek out the story line. Each narrative thread enriched and reflected the other; so that you could make the obvious connections and enabled the reader to make connections between the characters' traits. That's what I think great literature is all about: reflecting human nature back at the reader. I could quote Wilde at this point, but I'll refrain.Read it. You won't regret it. I've already leant my copy to a friend and can't wait to chat to them about it.


Just found this on a second-hand shelf (right after I expounded upon my virtuous ability to resist buying any more books, riiiiiight). It's an "uncorrected proof" so I hope that doesn't mean it's full of crazy mistakes, although if it is that might be encouraging to this aspiring author. It's getting lukewarm reviews here, but I'm not going to let that discourage me. The design, chapter titles, premise and first paragraph are all so lovely that I'm just going to ASSUME that the content is also enchanting. Puzzles, stuffed birds, mystery, 18th century naturalists, extinct creatures, a bit of danger? Yes please. ***Ok, it wasn't quite as edge-of-your seat exciting as I thought it might be, but it set a lovely atmosphere (lots of sitting in English pubs, by the fire, while the rain pelted at the windows, pondering the mysterious bird) and I was definitely engaged. There was one loose end that I didn't quite think was tied up, or at least I missed it (maybe it was nothing, just something I thought was leading somewhere). I liked the historical details and it's easy to see how this could be what happened, though there's no reason to think it did. At the start I was sure that the relationships between the men ("tortured" academics/adventurers) and the women (it would be nice if the descriptions of them didn't include so many diminutive adjectives) would irritate me, but thankfully there wasn't as much focus on that as I thought there might be. I will definitely read his other stuff, just got The Unicorn Road in at the library so that's probably next.


I enjoyed this book; it's in a similar vein to Andrea Barrett's wonderful novels, in that it combines 18th-century science and real historical characters with fiction. It's essentially two parallel tales -- the story of naturalist Joseph Banks and his mysterious lover Miss B, and modern-day taxidermist Fitz and his lodger Katya -- linked by a mysterious missing stuffed bird. [return][return]The problem I had with it was that the 18th-century parts were much more compelling than the 20th century ones; I loved the way he'd used real historical evidence to construct a plausible story about Banks and his nameless lover, and the development of their story was touching. The modern characters never really came alive in the same way -- they were all a bit wooden -- and the "mystery" of the bird and the various people looking for it never really built up enough suspense to be thrilling; it was pretty obvious that eventually Fitz would find it, and I guessed the "twist" in the d

Mary Lowe

Engaging story. Love the tale between two periods of time and the historic links.


** spoiler alert ** This book is actually one big meh. I've been looking forward to reading it for months but always put it off, and maybe it was the anticipation or the blurb, or my own shortcomings as a reader but it was just an epic disappointment.The concept of the book is decent but the execution was poor. I never felt invested enough in the relationships to care about the present story (which is a shame as I felt the Fitz/Gabby backstory was fascinating and heartbreaking and I wanted to read more about it) and the back story was okay, but not enough to really make you give a damn about the quest to find this extinct stuffed bird and a load of paintings.I think the book could have benefited from another 100 pages to flesh out the characters. I mean when we didn't even get to see the goodbye between Gabby and Fitz despite the history between them (in their 20 pages of interaction in the book we learn they were lovers, were married, lost a child, he left her and she continued to write to him for the 15 years they were apart but never divorced and the ending just felt so anti-climatic. Fitz and his student, Katya (who I think we were supposed to be rooting for?? I don't know - random insertion of someone to move the story along I guess but she made no indent into the story beyond solving all the clues and being the romantic foil to contrast Fitz past relationship and his new one, I think.Maybe I missed something epic that made it standout as something memorable, or maybe my love of past/futures colliding just wasn't enough to overlook a book that fundamentally is about taxidermy and is 100 pages of characterisation short of being worthwhile as a character driven book. It definitely improved in terms of readability as it progressed, but to be honest - I was expecting so much more from it when I picked it up. It's definitely not one that will be getting picked up again anytime soon.


I really enjoyed this book and found it fascinating so highly recommend. The book offers a clever plot and a good mystery, with bits of romance, history, and genealogy stirred in. It is actually two stories in one with a third theme running through it. First story is the modern day mystery with naturalist Fitzgerald's search for the long lost Ulieta Bird. The second is a Victorian romance of the naturalist Banks that originally had the bird. The third theme running through it is of Fitzgerald's grandfather's futile searching for the peacock of the Congo. The stories are linked and run parallel. Davies weaves the stories together seamlessly and the characters are very engaging. I really liked that the birds and some of the people were real and found myself stopping to read more about them on Wikipedia


A multiple time and generation story, which often go nowhere, but this one is beautiful. Davies’ the author takes one in with the rich detail of naturalist on Cook’s voyages or contemporary naturalists in the Amazon. We are interested in each character. The current naturalist, John Fritzgerald who has lost his way since his baby daughter died, and he realizes that documenting all the extinct species won’t bring them back. His estranged wife, Gabrielle tries to get him to find the remains of a preserved bird from the 1750’s which has been lost, but it seems that something else might be at stake, since he is followed and his rooms are searched. Juxtaposed with all this is Joseph Banks’ life, the one who sailed with Cook and owned the bird, and his love for Miss B, a gifted artist, and a wild woman who grew up in the woods. All these people and stories coalesce into a true mystery with great clues. A satisfying period piece and mystery.


A really good book. Not a gripping tale, but worth reading. It is romance and mystery all rolled into one, with historical bits adding up to its story. Two stories in different time and setting but related to each other.

sarah t

This was an okay read. The plot was essentially a search for a lost bird (in the present) to a story about Joseph Banks that tracked the history of said bird (in the past). The story in the past seemed so likely to end badly that I got stressed out reading the past-parts and consequently read quite slowly. The present-parts were sort of a mystery, only I was too sloppy to deduce much at all (especially since I kept forgetting characters names because I read the whole book so slowly because it was stressing me out). In the end, though, it was an interesting book and made me read up about Joseph Banks.


The Conjurer's Bird is an amusing way to pass the time. It's definitely not a gripping thriller on the caliber of Stephen King or Dan Simmons, although it might be a step above Dean Koontz. Martin Davies has unearthed an extremely interesting piece of history and wrapped it up in a somewhat interesting novel. Too bad none of it's true. As it stands, Davies tells the story of a character who is not particularly interesting who is investigating the story of one who is.Based on the disappearance of the bird known to ornithologists (scientists who study birds) only as the "Mysterious Bird of Ulieta," The Conjurer's Bird tells both the story of its original disappearance and the modern-day search for it by Fitz, a taxidermist, and his tenant, Katya. Fitz is introduced in an interesting way- I mean, how many taxidermists do you know?- but soon becomes a dull, two-dimensional character. There are one or two spikes of intrigue later in the story, but even those are predictable and boring if you've ever read Sherlock Holmes.However, Davies spends half the novel in a very unique approach to the mystery. According to history, the bird disappeared from the collection of one Joseph Banks, an 18th century naturalist, never to be seen again. Every other chapter in this novel is spent exploring Banks' background, his mistress known to history only as Miss B, and the fictional story of what happened to the bird. It's told only in pronouns (he and she), but we always know exactly who Davies is referring to. The language is beautiful, and the story wraps beautifully into actual historical documents, which makes it more believable and fascinating than other historical fiction.Unfortunately, this book only fits into the background with other novels rather than standing out. Despite the 380-page length of the book, Davies seems to rush through the plot in an attempt to tell two parallel stories. During the tale of Banks and Miss B, he relates emotions and motivations in deep, moving, descriptive language; in the story of Fitz, he hardly scratches the surface, creating an impenetrable hero whom we barely get attached to before the story ends.Banks himself seems to be the central character, although Davies has the unfortunate habit of introducing too many unimportant side characters and name-dropping. He includes a lot of minor scenes that don't serve to develop the characters any more, which also clouds the book with useless information. For example, he includes the mention of the search for many works of a botanical painter called Roitelot, but these feel almost peripheral, despite their claim to importance in the story.Altogether, the character we most end up knowing is Miss B, who doesn't even have a real name. Through most of the book, she is just referred to as "she." Davies understands and unifies her character the most, leaving us with a clear impression of just who she is, despite her invisibility to history. Davies has created a memorable character, both through her quiet words and lack of identity.


This is my absolute favorite kind of book -- historical research! Like The Historian and Possession (though not *quite* as good as either), most of the novel is spent in archives and libraries tracking down obscure bits of paper. I personally love this kind of thing, and could read about looking for lost material all day long. The pacing of this novel was excellent -- it kept me turning pages quickly. With that said, that's partly why it is not quite as good as the above mentioned novels -- it was competently written with great characters and story, but a lot of me was reading just to find out what happened next. It was like Possessionbut without so much work. It all depends on what you're in the mood for. I also had a few quips with the plot, but overall it was so enjoyable that it still gets the coveted four stars. I think the highest praise I can give it is that it sparked my interest in Joseph Banks -- I love it when pleasure reading encourages non fiction reading. I will certainly be hunting down other works by this author.


Closer to 2.5..a decent historical novel which dives back and forth from present time to the 1700s to tell the tale of the non-fictional naturalist Joseph Banks and his expedition with Cook to the Pacific islands and his love affair with an unsuitable woman who shared his passion for nature.The modern thread of the story is an attempt by a naturalist,still healing from familial sorrow,who is intrigued by the legend of a rare bird found by Banks on the voyage which may still exist somewhere in England.There's not much plot tension or in depth characterization of the players, but it's a decent read(fairly intelligent writing,some good atmospheric renditions of life in the 1700s,a not-too sappy romance,a strong female character who reminds us of the few options for women in earlier times), tho ultimately I suspect you are not likely to remember this story for long after you've closed the book.

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