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Falling in love with Wellington is an occupational 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.
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