Wellington. The wind city. New Zealand’s home of art and culture, but darker forces, forgotten forces, are starting to reappear. Aotearoa’s displaced iwi atua – the patupaiarehe, taniwha, and ponaturi of legend – have decided to make Wellington their home, and while some have come looking for love, others have arrived in search of blood.
A war is coming, and few can stand in their way. Saint (lovably fearless, temporarily destitute, currently unable to find a shirt) may be our only hope. Tony, suddenly unemployed and potentially a taniwha herself, has little choice but to accept the role her bloodline dictates. And Hinewai, who fell with the rain? If she can’t find her one true love, there’s a good chance that none will live to see the morning.
Wellington will never be the same again.
When The Wind City was first mentioned to me, I basically made grabby hand motions. I’m a big fan of Maori/NZ urban fantasy stories such as David Hair’s Aotearoa series or the standalone Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, so any novel that I could stand beside them in that genre was something I had to read. Unfortunately, while there was a lot in The Wind City that I liked it did not quite meet my hopes.
When Wigmore is at her best, her writing is absolutely gorgeous. Her descriptions of mythological characters and aspects to Wellington are lyrical, fluid and utterly beautiful. There were times when I had to stop and reread a sentence or paragraph because I loved it so much – Hinewai’s appearance on the earth in the prologue is just one of many examples. Although some of this strength and beauty is lost in the more mundane settings or when not writing about the mythological secondary characters, the sheer amount of passion and imagination for the setting that comes across in her writing helps ease that loss. It is easy to see Wellington as Wigmore sees it – an exciting, interesting place where maybe Cuba Street does have an actual personified spirit after all, and maybe I will see a nymph chilling in Bucket Fountain the next time I walk that way.
It is also really refreshing to see urban fantasy of any kind that features queer characters and non-Pakeha characters (especially important as it is Maori mythology as the basis for this story, not imported European folklore) and to have them as important characters rather than sidekicks. The queerness/fluidness of various characters is stated and accepted without any huge deal being made by others, and that is something I really wish more books (and other media) would do the same. So Wigmore definitely deserves praise for that.
While a few of her core characters are perhaps a little flatter than they could be, the secondary characters that populate The Wind City shine. They really make the scenes they appear in and bring back that whole sense of otherworldliness that makes the story and the writing shine. Although there were times when I felt there were just too many types of mythological beings crammed into the story, they were still exciting to meet and see and were utterly vibrant on the page.
I did enjoy the plot, but felt at times it was a little too compressed (having had to sacrifice its words to dialogue that didn’t quite seem necessary at times) and at others it just rambled off. After an exciting start, there was a slow patch in the middle I had to work through, before it picked up again. It needed a little bit more focus in a few places, but I think that will improve on repeat readings – there was more than one occasion where, out of the blue and in an unrelated section, I would have an “ah ha!” moment due to foreshadowing not quite clicking where it should have.
While there were some things I loved, and some things I wish could have been done better/had more focus, there were just some things that grated on me personally.
First all, the ellipses. There were ellipses everywhere, and about 90% of the time they did not seem needed at all. No words were missing, there was no actual trailing off, and unfortunately it just made the whole thing stand out in the worst of ways. Sometimes I would find myself being thrown out of the story for the third time on a page because the punctuation had become so noticeable that it was annoying rather than helpful. I love ellipses and probably use them a fraction too much myself, so when I am only partway through the story and frustrated by the amount, it’s probably too much.
Throughout the whole novel there was a level of disconnect between me and the characters, and it took me a while to figure out what it was: they were written like characters Joss Whedon might create. They’re all far too witty, too ready with a quip and using the Buffyspeak in lieu of feeling like full characters. This Jossness flavouring to the work is not a surprise, given the number of references to Whedon’s works throughout the novel (Wigmore is very clearly a fan), but for me personally it just did not work. Bigger fans of Whedon and his way of writing, however, may find this to be a drawcard and something they will like about The Wind City.
Speaking of Whedon references, the last thing that niggled at me throughout the book was the heavy weight of all the references and pop culture mentions (not just Whedon, although his works are very prominent) throughout. One noticable side-effect was that it already dates the book quite a bit – a character mentions wanting to go see the new Avengers movie, and as I doubt they are talking about Age of Ultron that puts it in 2012 – when it is otherwise not specifically set to a date and doesn’t have to be.
Despite my problems with The Wind City, it is still a great debut for a novel written while the author was still a teen, and I look forward to seeing more of her work as the years go by. For those looking to try some Maori-influenced urban fantasy like the Aotearoa series and Guardian of the Dead, be sure to take a look at The Wind City as well (especially if you do like Joss Whedon).
This review was first published in November 2011 at On The Nightstand.