The Conjuror’s Bird

ISBN: 0340896167
ISBN 13: 9780340896167
By: Martin Davies

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Genres

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

Elizabeth

A short review, I'm constrained by time.I loved The Conjuror's Bird. It's a mystery with two stories running parrallel, one set in the 18th century and the other in modern day. It's based on a true story and the modern part hands on the hunt for a valuable and important stuffed extinct bird. The earlier part of the tale is about how the bird came to be in a particular family, and it explores a delicate and rare love story for which the bird is in part a metaphor. The writing style is easy and graceful and contains a lot of home truths.Well worth the read.

Lowed

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 Englandand 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.Seamlessly leaping between time periods,The Conjurer's Bird is at once the story of Joseph Banks's secret life, Fitz's thrilling and near-impossible race to find the elusive bird, and of John's grandfathers' search for an unknown peacock from Africa.There is something about this book that triggers the interest of the readers. As one reviewer has already noted, Martin Davies has a way with words and could really keep you over the edge. I'm not into birds per se, but if it has something to do with finding a lost item that could involve an unexpected adventure and an untimely love affair, then enlist me on the next expidition! ÜThis is a four!

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.

Mary Lowe

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

Christine

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.

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.

Rory

This was a complete chore to read. Boring first person narrator finds himself immersed in a boring mystery/wild goose chase (the wild goose being the mysterious Bird of Ulieta), paralleled with the story of a boring 18th century circumnavigator's boring relationship with his boring mistress.

Annabelle

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.

Marie

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

Marianne

** 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.

Jo

I've read books of a similar vein where the narratives take place in the present and the past but seemingly tie in and I find these styles of writing a mixed bag. This one combined botany, taxidermy and a mysterious bird. I found it difficult to engage with the characters and the storyline and didn't get as engrossed as I expected to. Not a terrible book, just not that exciting for me.

Zoella

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.

Karen

I really liked this book and the switching bewteeen the two different timelines each chapter. I loved both era's but probably enjoyed the historical pieces the best - the way of life, the stigma associated with a young woman not being a virgin and its implications for the rest of her life. The adventures overseas to draw wildlife (no cameras), and the inability to communicate quickly with people on the other side of the world (no phones or even telegrams) made me focus on how very much has changed in the world and how we are both richer and poorer for it.

Adrien

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.

Pat

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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