Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm

Megan Lindholm is better known to readers as Robin Hobb, the author of a number of much loved and highly successful fantasy series set in the Six Duchies. Before adopting the pen name she wrote under part of her real name, which is Megan Lindholm.

I’d read some of Robin Hobb’s books, and while not as enamoured of them as many are I was still interested to see what the work she wrote prior to the Farseer trilogy stacked up against the later and better known books. Another intriguing thing was that Wizard of the Pigeons is classified as urban fantasy.

It came out in 1986, which was almost before there was a subsection classified as urban fantasy, I think at that stage it was still being called contemporary fantasy. It shows how the subgenre has changed since those days, too. No vampires and werewolves in Wizard of the Pigeons, what we have is a homeless man called Wizard who may or may not be able to perform acts of magic, and is battling to keep his home city of Seattle safe from evil, and trying to use his powers to make a difference in the lives of ordinary people, often those who are the most defenceless members of society.

Wizard isn’t the only one of his kind in Seattle, there’s Rasputin and Euripides, and the mysterious woman who found them and brought them together; Cassie. The book follows Wizard as he wanders through Seattle living his hand to mouth existence. Along the way readers meet Rasputin, Euripides and Cassie, as well as the waitress Lynda, who could bring Wizard’s life crashing down about his ears. Interspersed with the narrative are snatches of Seattle’s history as a frontier and goldrush town, as well as Wizard’s past as a Vietnam war veteran, who has tried to escape what he did during that conflict initially through drugs and alcohol and now as a pigeon fancying wizard.

I thought the sections dealing with Seattle’s history were some of the most interesting and best written in the book, and they were something I thoroughly enjoyed. It seems that a number of speculative fiction writers live in Washington state, and Lindholm researched her home city thoroughly to write this book.

Even if I hadn’t known that Megan Lindholm and Robin Hobb were the same person I could see a couple of themes that run through both works. A connection to nature and things not being what they seem at first look. I’ve also found a lot of the Six Duchies work depressing and devoid of hope, that’s something that runs through Wizard of the Pigeons, although it does end on a hopeful note.

It was a quick read, but not an easy one as such, due to me finding it fairly heavy and rather miserable. I also never bought the character of Lynda as being particularly well written, she was a bit of a walking collection of clich├ęs. The disaffected war veteran, seeking escape from the reality of his life is a well trodden path, too. It’s been something that has become increasingly common in urban fantasy since Wizard of the Pigeons made it’s appearance.

I’ve read a number of works in a similar vein, but they haven’t been particularly memorable, because I can’t recall the titles or the authors at present. One book that I was reminded of while reading Wizard of the Pigeons was Jo Walton’s Hugo Award winning Among Others, the protagonist of that is a young girl who believes she sees fairies and that magic works, but the audience is left wondering whether it’s real or only in her imagination, similar to how I was never quite sure if a lot of what happened to Wizard really did happen the way it seemed to, or the readers saw it that way because it was filtered through his perspective.

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