In Ghosts of Parihaka, the fifth and penultimate book in the acclaimed Aotearoa series, David Hair again delivers his clever and thought-provoking blend of contemporary and historical New Zealand, coupled with mythology and magic.
The protagonist, teenage adept Matiu Douglas, is now well-trained in the in magical arts and well on his way to becoming a fully-fledged tohunga ruanuku (“good wizard”) He flits with ease, although no little physical exertion, between our world and the parallel world of Aotearoa, where historical figures and the ordinary dead co-exist with mythological and magical creatures.
Matiu’s friend Riki, on a school trip to present-day Parihaka, is tricked by a beautiful woman into passing through to Aotearoa’s Parihaka, where he gets caught up in the famous passive resistance protest he has been studying, and ends up on a slave ship headed by tohunga makutu (“evil wizard”) and historical character John Bryce. Matiu, alerted to Riki’s disappearance, heads to Aotearoa to rescue his friend, accompanied by his posse of now-familiar characters (including Damien, who died in Book four, Justice and Utu, but now resides in Aotearoa).
Matiu is also accompanied by newer friend and blossoming love interest Everelda, a seer who in Book 4 discovered she was actually the natural daughter of two of Matiu’s greatest enemies in Aotearoa. Their fledgling relationship is severely complicated by the fact that Matiu has been chosen by Aroha, the incarnation of Hine-ahu-one (the first woman), as her future mate. As Aroha is also the incarnation of Hine-te-po, the Goddess of Death, Matiu and Evie’s relationship proves too dangerous to continue.
Ghosts of Parihaka had some fantastic moments and gave some interesting insights into the devastating events that took place at Parihaka in the 1880s. The main problem with the book was that it was clearly a ‘middle book’, which does not stand well on its own and sets up a lot of events which it then leaves hanging, to resolve in the final book. There was a large section in the middle in which it felt like very little of importance happened other than a lot of travelling. Things just keep getting worse for Matiu, and the final showdown with John Bryce ends up feeling somewhat anti-climactic. The book did its job, however, as I am now waiting very impatiently to read the final installment.
The Aotearoa series has the same sort of young adult/adult crossover appeal as John Marsden’s Tomorrow series, and although the subject matter is very different, is likely to appeal to a similar audience. Mild violence and romantic themes mean the books are probably more suited to teens and mature pre-teens than a younger audience, and I would also strongly recommend them to adults with an interest in New Zealand’s history and in Māori mythology.
Reviewed by Renée Boyer-Willisson
Ghosts of Parihaka
by David Hair
Published by HarperCollins