Book Review: The Gardeners 1 & 2: Master of Paxwax and Fall of the Families, by Phillip Mann

Available in bookstores nationwide.

cv_the_gardenerThis classic science-fiction tale in two volumes has now been reprinted and re-released in the New Zealand market − and thanks to Booksellers NZ, found its way into my reading pile. Now, I do not normally read science fiction, favouring fantasy, but as the synopsis sounded somewhat like a space opera, I figured it was worth reading.

And it was. Highly enjoyable, highly original, with plenty of complex political wrangling, alliances and enemies. At the centre of it all is young Pawl Paxwax, summoned back to his home planet following the death of his younger brother. Suddenly he finds himself heir to the estate, and a freak accident adds further complications to his plans for marriage and a simple life.

Phillip Mann has a truly inspired imagination. His alien races are just that − alien − completely and utterly, in almost every way. From the monstrous Hammer, to the terrifying Spiderlings (weta-inspired aliens), to creatures that seem as insubstantial as a whisper. They are all here, described in enough detail to allow the reader to paint a picture in their mind. Compounded with that are the various deformations suffered by the mostly-humans. Pawl, for example, is hunched and disfigured, another bears a ruff of feathers and most seem to suffer from some sort of physical malady. Truly, Mann has brought these (slightly demented) otherworlds to life.

Pawl is a young man, stubborn and caught in his ways, defiant against tradition and wanting to do things his own way. Through the first book he fights against what is expected of him, and wins. But at what price? Has he sacrificed his own happiness? Perhaps.

cv_the_Gardener_fallThe second book starts on a bittersweet note − Pawl may have succeeded in marrying, but is the simple life his to grasp? No. Political tides swell against him, and he also finds himself an ignorant pawn in a game more dire than any he has ever dreamed. Those he trusts will betray him, and disaster looms, a dark shadow on the horizon.

The prose is excellent and enticing, the language rich and evocative.

The lightly scattered humour, the unfortunate comedy-of-error-esque plotting and the diabolical schemings all make for an entertaining read. I looked forward to finding out where Pawl’s life led him next and could not help but feel that his somewhat selfish behaviour was leading him on a downward spiral into tragedy and darkness.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Gardener: Master of Paxwax
by Phillip Mann
Published by Sargasso Press
ISBN 9780473297954

The Gardener: The Fall of the Families
by Phillip Mann
Published by Sargasso Press
ISBN 9780473297961

Book Review: The Curioseum: Collected stories of the odd & marvellous

What a fantastic idea for a book.cv_the_curiousem Museums are hives of story, both real and imagined. Things in museums all have something different to communicate, and these 22 authors have created new stories surrounding some intriguing objects from Te Papa Museum.

I am envious of the carte blanche the authors were given in the museum archives. I still remember being able to explore the archives of Coaltown, where my mum worked in Westport. I used to love going exploring in the attic – of course nothing was clearly archived, so it was really dusty and grimy, but there was magic up there.

Realistic dialogue between children is one of the major strengths of several of the stories in this book, with Anatonio Te Maioha writing about a disaster in a lift, and John McCrystal writing about two kids bickering as they go through the museum with their mum, learning about a dog-skin cloak whose owner remains a mystery.

The authors chosen have put their own recognisable imprint on their story, with Kyle Mewburn writing about a fold-up boy who is a bit of a dunderhead, Phillip Mann invoking the supernatural Sa-Li, James Brown giving us an acrostic poem about Britten’s bike, Joy Cowley writing a caper story featuring an errant cat, and Raymond Huber writing one of the most memorable stories in the collection, of a unique breed of humans who mature into insects (a highly original allegory for puberty).

While my children are too young for most of these stories, I still attempted the launch at Te Marae at the beginning of the month. I enjoyed the wonderful Jo Randerson reading her story, and so did my 3-year-old, but the 18-month old is a bit over-active for that sort of immersion in words!

The cover and the interior illustrations are all by Sarah Laing, who is a fantastic artist, and has some really neat interpretations of the stories. I am enjoying this trend at the moment of using cartoonists for cover illustration – Sarah has done several cartoon covers recently, and Dylan Horrocks also: both have an eye-catching style of lettering and illustration. The weight and feel of this book are also well-considered.

This is a wonderful collection for children aged 8-12. Both world wars and the holocaust come up in the book a couple of different times, as well as several Maori myths, so be prepared for some chances to explain Maori mythology and European history if they aren’t yet aware of it. I look forward to the next children’s book from Te Papa Press, especially if they collaborate with Whitireia Publishing further.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Curioseum: Collected Stories of the Odd & Marvellous
Edited by Adrienne Jansen
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9787877385926