Book review: ‘Night Birds’ |

Book review: ‘Night Birds’

Andrew FerschVail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyBook: Night BirdsAuthor: Thoman MaltmanPages: 370Cost: $18

Epic literature is rare these days books which take it upon themselves to entwine whole life experiences of different generations and have them come out seamless and meaningful, speaking to the reader. Epic books truly showcase what writing is capable of accomplishing when a writer pens them. First time novelist Thomas Maltman almost writes a perfect example of one of these novels.Loosely basing his book off of a collection of childrens stories Maltman read before he moved to Little House on the Prarie country, as he calls it, the story begins by focusing on the life of young Asa, a 14-year-old boy born mere months after the (real life) hanging of 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato, Minn. In 1876 tensions still run extremely high and when one lone Indian shows up in town, its merely the beginning of what will prove to become the complete uprooting of life for Asa and his family as they know it. Maltman seems to make little effort to make his transitions seamless while moving from one time period to another. Seemingly arbitrary jumps riddle the pages and, at times, make for confusion until you are able to discern the different narrative styles, and identify who is telling the story. In reality, he is setting an elaborate, and incredibly well thought out scene for what is happening in the book. Maltmans early introduction of the lone Indian, Asas long-lost (and clinically insane) Aunt Hazel, and the peculiar appearance of a group of young cowboys at the family farm are all craftily written to create the world in which the rest of the book is going to take place. For a novel dealing at least in part with the causes and effects of settlers treatment of Native Americans on the plains, Maltman does a truly excellent job not getting too caught up in goofy stereotyping, and manages to create both worlds, while keeping them realistic, beautiful and flawed. There is no sugarcoating of the evils done on each side, there is a merely a blunt honesty of the fact that it is part of our history, it really did happen, and that on all sides, there was disagreement as to whether what was being done was right or wrong.The fact that the book is not only loosely based on real events, it is also based on real people, gives large parts of the story an even deeper meaning considering these are things that did happen. The story and players may be fictionalized; the human atrocities and the beauty that the human heart is capable of are all heartbreakingly true. At times a love story, at times history lesson, Night Birds is so much more as an entity. It may not be your typical epic novel its shorter, has many different narrators (making it a bit choppier albeit a great deal more intriguing), and it has a much more concrete ending, tying up loose ends created during the tale. It does however have all of the characteristics of a truly great novel. It would be hard to finish the novel and not grow to love even some of the most atrocious of characters as they are all so beautifully made human by Maltmans words and tales. If nothing else, its pretty clear that Maltman succeeded at what he was trying hardest to do, create a world where the reader would have no choice but to feel a strong connection to both sides. As human beings, we are all capable of turning into anything, sometimes were the thieves, sometimes were the soldiers, and sometimes we are the ravens.Andrew Fersch writes weekly book reviews for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments about this review to

Support Local Journalism