Book Review: Air Born, by J. L. Pawley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_air_bornJ.L. Pawley is a young writer, hailing from Auckland, New Zealand. Air Born first found its wings via Wattpad, where Pawley established quite a readership – and with good reason – before self-publishing her book, then having it picked up and refined by local publisher, Steam Press, and it can now be found in bookstores across New Zealand.

Many of us have dreamed of flying, and for American teenager Tyler Owens, that desire is about to become heart-racing reality.  Despite suffering from recent, almost debilitating back pain, he’s not about to let that stop him from experiencing his first solo sky dive. But it all goes horrendously wrong, when the swelling along his spine ruptures into a glorious pair of wings. With the entire event captured on video and broadcast across the world, Tyler does not have much chance to enjoy his new mutation – instead he’s running for his freedom, pursued by the sinister Evolutionary Corporation and heralded by the  impassioned Angelists.

But Tyler is not alone, because across the world other teenagers – all recently turned 17 – are experiencing similar “wing births”.  These seven teenagers are drawn together, to become a flock (or rather, a flight). Together, in the Californian desert, they must learn how to control their newly-sprouted limbs and master the art of flight, before they are hunted down.

Adrenalin-fueled and engaging, this is an action-adventure that should appeal to fans of the CHERUBS series, and James Patterson’s Maximum Ride. Flying is no easy feat, and Pawley has put a lot of thought into the biology of her icarian race. Whilst the story is fast-paced, and the characterisation strong – I particularly liked the character of Tui, a bold and out-spoken girl from New Zealand – there are perhaps not as many questions answered as I would have liked; there is much to be learned of the background behind these winged teenagers, which I suspect will be explored in further novels.

A strong debut, and I look forward to following the adventures of this Flight further.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Air Born
by J. L. Pawley
Published by Steam Press
ISBN 9780994138798

Book Review: The Wind City, by Summer Wigmore

Available in bookstores now.

Falling in love with Wellington is an occupationalCover_AW_The Wind City_01.indd hazard of living here – or even sometimes of just visiting, as novelist Summer Wigmore can attest.

The latest title from New Zealand speculative fiction publisher Steam Press is The Wind City, an urban fantasy (and arguably paranormal romance) debut novel that isn’t just set in Wellington, it seems to be built of Wellington, full of absolutely positively words. The action all takes place in the central city, a lot of it around Civic Square and the City to Sea bridge where, appropriately, you can find the sculpture of these words from Lauris Edmond:

It’s true you can’t live here by chance,
you have to do and be, not simply watch
or even describe. This is the city of action,
the world headquarters of the verb –

And, now, the world headquarters of the iwi atua, the gods and monsters of Maori mythology. In The Wind City, Wigmore imagines a Wellington filled with taniwha and patupaiarehe, spirits of land and sea and air – and of the bucket fountain on Cuba Mall: “colourful and clashy and loud, like you’d expect, with rainbow-painted nails and hair in bright streaks of red and blue and yellow. She looked almost human otherwise…” Just out of sight of humans, the spirits of the city have evolved as society has changed. It’s an engaging and very fruitful central idea.

bucket_fountain

What makes the Wellington-ness of The Wind City even more extraordinary is the fact that Wigmore wrote it never having lived in the capital. She says the idea for the book came to her when she was on a Wellington bus during a visit: “I wanted to explore the cracks and crevices of the city.” But it wasn’t until the establishment of Steam Press by Stephen Minchin in 2011 that she felt there might be a market for the book, and set about seriously writing. At the launch, Minchin recounted how he received the (unsolicited) manuscript one Friday, read it over the weekend, and agreed to publish it on the Monday – possibly one of the fastest slush pile acceptances on record.

Steam Press has done another excellent job on the production of this title. The cover art by Alice Brash is bang on, and the drawings throughout the book are evocative (and will be useful for those unfamiliar with the capital). The plot of The Wind City is centred around Tony (she might be a taniwha), who you love, and Saint (constantly describing himself as “lovably fearless”), who you want to slap. The whip-fast, hyper-aware banter of the dialogue will be familiar to fans of Joss Whedon, and there’s a hat tip to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in that Saint models himself on the character of Spike. But, although her influences are clear, Wigmore’s voice and style are both assured and very much of New Zealand.

While she obviously revels in writing the fun stuff – and parts of the book are what’s-making-you-laugh-like-that? funny – her plotting is deft and her handling of the characters’ emotional development is sensitive and believable. And her prose really shines, especially when she steps away from her protagonists’ voices. I loved the opening sentences: “Hinewai fell with the rain. The patterns of drips and drops falling formed the outline of a girl, sketched her skin in silver; she had long, long hair, down past her waist, white as mist. She was a smudge, then she was a shadow, and then she gathered her raindrop-self together and formed her old body again.”

I highly recommend The Wind City as a great summer read for older kids and young-to-young-ish adults alike. The prose sparkles and the plot bounces along like an umbrella stolen by the wind. And all that love just draws you in: love for the city, and love for what might be hidden in its nooks and crannies, its mists and rainbows. This is a confident, vivacious first novel. Wigmore is one to watch.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

The Wind City
by Summer Wigmore
Published by Steam Press
ISBN 9780992257866

Book Review: The Factory World, by Joseph Edward Ryan

The premise of The Factory World is simple: Simon, a young cv_the_factory_worldboy, wakes up in a pipe that opens out onto a bleak apocalyptic world, and, with the help of an old-school gunslinger who calls himself the Tin Man, Simon must find a way to get back home. Despite the similarities in premise with Cormac MacCarthy’s The Road (the post-apocalyptic world, the older man/younger boy partnership), Joseph Edward Ryan’s novel is much more focused on the world that Simon wakes up in.

And what a world it is. A genuinely unsettling mix of the familiar and the weird, Ryan’s story world seems born out of a fevered nightmare. Scarred by craters from purple falling stars and peopled with strange black mannequins and vicious monsters, the world is a frighteningly dystopic Oz, where seemingly no one is worth your trust. There are more than a few images and ideas that had me thinking “How on earth did he come up with this stuff?” In one standout passage, Simon and the Tin Man are saved from predators by a giant woman in silver armour, who, as it turns out, had her own, potentially deadly, motives for saving them. The scene that followed was both so brilliantly out there and creeped me out so severely that I gasped “Whaaa–?!” and had to briefly put the book down.

It’s the vivid grotesquerie of Ryan’s wildly fertile imagination that is this book’s greatest strength. Through Ryan’s bare, unadorned prose, we are carried through his world, very much as if we are seeing everything through a camera lens—a lens which unemotionally documents the rustling of bushes as an unseen monster rips off a woman’s leg, the wet sound of footsteps on a blood-covered factory floor, and the sight of a giant black globe hanging in mid air above a field of rusting rocket ships. What’s more, the world of the novel is cleverly interwoven with subtle clues to help us figure out why exactly Simon has ended up in this world. Ryan is very deft in this regard, handling the paying out of crucial information very carefully and trusting that the reader is able to put two and two together.

Though Ryan’s emphasis remains on the world he’s built in this novel, his characters, though relatively simply delineated, do develop and change over the course of the novel. And thank goodness. For the first third of the book Simon is excessively timid and cautious, and that annoyed me no end and made it difficult to get on board with Simon’s character at the beginning of the novel. But as his interaction with the Tin Man grows, and he becomes further shaped by the world of the novel, his character grows apace, and again this aspect was handled deftly.

Despite initial difficulty getting into the book, The Factory World very quickly became a page turner for me, and I gobbled down the majority of it in one greedy sitting. The Factory World is part post-apocalyptic story, part thriller, part horror film, and in all a satisfying read.

Reviewed by Feby Idrus

The Factory World
Written by Joseph Edward Ryan
Published by Steam Press
ISBN 9780992251109