Ripples on the Lake
by Dawn Rotarangi (Pākehā, though she's married to a Māori guy
Older-young adult fantasy (marketed as "paranormal adventure").
The point of view characters are Pākehā (white New Zealanders): Saffron, eldest of five siblings, who's drawn into events by trying to protect her youngest brother from the results of stealing some tapu (sort of sacred/taboo - anyway, dangerous) coins; and Nick, a press photographer with a penchant for taking photos of anything that's bleeding. With her whole family at risk, Saffron has to put things right with some help from local Māori and eventually Nick.
(The story subverts the "Magical Negro" trope in that the Māori helping her aren't so much taking a backseat to the white heroine because she's the heroine, but rather because they're way too smart to mess with these things if they don't have to. In some cases they're explicitly using her so they can keep a distance.)
I like the British superstition as a backdrop to what the Pākehā characters scorn as Māori 'superstition'. It's part of what gets Saffron involved (her father inculcated all his kids with a strong sense that it's a good idea to avoid cracks in the pavement, the number 13, black cats, etc, just in case
, so she plays along with the whole tapu thing long enough to find out that yeah, this stuff's real
) and thematically it makes a nice compare-and-contrast.
Trigger warnings: (skip
) Refers to suicide of Saffron's father. Contains graphic descriptions of two of her siblings' deaths and of a massacre of women and babies.( Cut for my irritable judgement of some of the male characters, involving MANY spoilers )Beak of the Moon
by Philip Temple
Young adult; Watership Down with kea; myxomatosis is replaced with fire and sheep.
I read it mostly because I'm researching kea, in aid of hopefully writing a short story about them. It was okay I guess. Makes an interesting compare-and-contrast with Sil: A Novel
by Jill Harris which is the same thing but with tui and a different plot - Sil
is about a singing contest and the threat of magpies rather than the whole "Must leave dictatorial home to establish a new utopian colony. Oh noes, we forgot the females!" thing. In fact both Sil
and Beak of the Moon
have scenes where Our Heroes attempt to fly over a large body of water (Sil is trying to flee to an island in his grief at losing the singing contest; Strongbeak of Beak of the Moon
hasn't quite figured out that Australia is more than 16km away from New Zealand) with disastrous results.
In terms of anthropomorphisation, Watership Down
does the least and Beak of the Moon
is pretty close to that (particularly because if you know anything about kea you'll be ready to believe pretty much anything about them); Sil
has more and I particularly go squinty-eyed at the tui plot to imitate magpies in order to annoy the humans enough that the humans will shoot all the magpies. But as books for that age groups go, it was a book for that age group.
The compare and contrast of Beak of the Moon
with Watership Down
is a bit more interesting but also makes its failings the more obvious. The first two thirds of the novel follow the Watership Down
plot pretty closely, though it's slower to get started, there's more infighting among our intrepid adventurers, and in the last third they come back home and deal with the problems there; and then
they establish their colony in the last chapter. I did like that it was more rooted in the home and that the book considered it important to solve the problems there, but... Strongbeak's wavering between determination-bordering-on-recklessness and Hamlet-like indecision made it all drag a bit.
Kea mythology isn't quite as fun-filled as rabbit mythology, though it's competent and plausible.
But what really irritated me were:
- In chapter one, Our Heroes meet humans for the first time. Humans who wear different coloured hats, and ride horses, and leave out bread for them to eat (and later in the book start fires and bring sheep and shoot the kea with guns). And kea have never before even heard of humans. Apparently Māori don't exist in this New Zealand. I... I guess that could be why the kea meet moa on their journeys? In short: Oh Philip Temple no.
- He's clearly done some research on kea, but has equally clearly failed to do research on their history. Part of the reason I read the book was that I am doing research on their history. I didn't find it too hard at all to discover that the early history of kea/human relations goes like this:
Temple's history, by contrast, appears to be:
- Māori and kea know about each other. Māori know that kea come further down the mountains in colder winters. There's a reference to some Māori training them as pets.
- Pākehā naturalists arrive, observe and describe kea. (1856 at the latest.) There's more interaction over the next few years. A topographer knocks them down with stones for food.
- Pākehā drive sheep into the areas where kea are spending cold winters. Kea investigate the shepherds' huts and discover the joys of pecking at sheep skins and other remains of humans butchering sheep. Some get captured (most promptly escape).
- Kea discover they can get awesome tasty food from sheep killed in accidents.
- Kea discover that you don't even need to wait for the sheep to be dead.
- Pākehā think for months (if not years; I'm not sure if I've seen an exact chronology of the early years) that the resultant wounds are some new kind of sheep disease, until one shepherd in 1871 notices what's actually going on (almost half-way down the page).
- At some point kea start outright killing the sheep (rather than nomming on them alive and the sheep sometimes dying later of their wounds) but this mightn't be until the 1880s.
- From 1878 on, Pākehā work out new and increasingly exciting ways of slaughtering the kea to protect their sheep. (I concede there was probably some of this going on from 1871 on smaller scales.) By 1883 beaks are taken as trophies as the government pays a few shillings a beak.
- There are no Māori.
- There are no naturalists.
- In the space of a single year, Pākehā meet kea for the first time ever, set fire to the mountain, and bring sheep (which the kea call "pinkfaces"! Philip Temple, have you ever seen a sheep? if there's any pink quality it's not exactly the first impression a kea would have) to feed on the new growth; in the same year the rest of the book takes place and then, in desperation, a kea discovers a nommy sheep carcass and within a week some more kea learn to kill them; next day the humans shoot at and kill several of the kea, after which the story would have us believe all the kea swear off meat forever.
So that was kind of irritating for me.
(Buller wrote a decent overview
of what Pākehā knew about kea by the late 19th century. I can give references to anything not mentioned there.)