Wizard of the Pigeons: A novel with many layers

book review Wizard of the Pigeons Megan Lindholm Robin Hobbbook review Wizard of the Pigeons Megan Lindholm Robin HobbWizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm

Wizard of the Pigeons is one of the last books Megan Lindholm wrote under this pen name, before moving on to her Robin Hobb alter ego. Once again I am impressed with the diversity of Lindholm’s writing; Wizard of the Pigeons is unlike any of the others I’ve read. I guess you could call it an urban fantasy before the werewolf boyfriends took over, or maybe magical realism would fit better. It is a very good book, whichever genre label you prefer.

For those who can see it, Seattle, the Emerald City, is a place of magic. Living by his own rules, Wizard makes a living on what opportunities the city offers. He has elevated scavenging to an art and appears comfortable in his life as Wizard. Soon it becomes clear that all is not well in Seattle, however. A ghost form Wizard’s past is threatening the city and he is the only one who can stop it. His past is pulling at him to leave the magical existence he’s built for himself and reintegrate in the mundane world, but doing so while this threat remains unchallenged would threaten more than just Wizard’s life. He will have to confront and defeat this creature to save the city. He knows he has a chance of doing so, if only he could stick to the rules of his magic.

When we meet Wizard, he is a man without a past. Even his name is gone and he tries very hard to keep his own past at bay, even claiming that he cannot remember what he was before he became Wizard. He’s a perfect example of the unreliable narrator and one of the strong points of this novel is how Lindholm uses this to build her story. It is clear early on that Wizard is a homeless man and that much of what he perceives as magic are tricks that help him survive on a day to day basis.

His magical talent is called Knowing. When people talk to him, he occasionally Knows things about them and is compelled to answer their questions or provide solutions to their problems. This magic is not free, though. In order to use it, Wizard must abide by a lot rules, one of which is to feed and protect his pigeons. This is another area where Lindholm mixes reality and imagination. Some of Wizard’s rules are designed to keep people away from him, but when someone does manage to get close, his past inevitably comes calling. The story develops a second layer once details of his past as a Vietnam veteran emerge, one that is even more heartbreaking than the magical side of the tale.

Wizard is not the only one able to see and use the magic of the city. Cassie, who introduced Wizard to Seattle’s magical side, has her own taboos associated with using her magic. Cassie is an intriguing character, often confusing Wizard (and the reader) with the roundabout way in which she tries to explain things to him. The way Cassie’s behaviour and the resolution of the novel both come back to their respective taboos, real and imagined, is some of the best plot Lindholm has written. As usual, she uses her characters hard — Lindholm is not a writer who likes straightforward happy endings.

Lindholm describes the city of Seattle in colourful detail. Wizard has an eye for its beauty and the history that shaped the city’s appearance. People who are familiar with Seattle will get a lot more out of this aspect of the novel. Wizard’s perceptions allow him to spot opportunities easily but also serve to give the reader a glimpse of what a magical Seattle would look like. While the novel shows the Emerald City at its best, Lindholm is equally capable of turning Seattle into a grey, rainy and depressing place or a hostile and threatening one, suiting Wizard’s mood in such scenes. The Wizard is sensitive to the mood of the city and Lindholm’s descriptions reflect these moods very well.

Wizard of the Pigeons is a novel with many layers. Do you choose to see Wizard as a Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or a figure not unlike Merlin? Is it a story of unrequited love, a magical quest, or facing a dark past? Is Seattle magical or mundane? Is the city sheltering him or is he protecting the city? Lindholm leaves the reader a lot of room to interpret the story but nonetheless manages to write a conclusion that makes all the elements fall into place. She packs a lot into this slim volume, most of it just under the surface of the main narrative, and she does not provide all the answers — you must go digging for your own. Every novel I read by Megan Lindholm strengthens my opinion that her books are seriously under-appreciated and Wizard of the Pigeons is no exception.

FanLit thanks Rob Weber from Val’s Random Comments for contributing this guest review.

Wizard of the Pigeons — (1986) Publisher: Seattle: a place as magical as the Emerald City. Subtle magic seeps through the cracks in the paving stones of the sprawling metropolis. But only the inhabitants who possess special gifts are open to the city’s consciousness; finding portents in the graffiti, reading messages in the rubbish or listening to warnings in the skipping-rope chants of children. Wizard is bound to Seattle and her magic. His gift is the Knowing – a powerful enchantment allowing him to know the truth of things; to hear the life-stories of ancient mummies locked behind glass cabinets, to receive true fortunes from the carnival machines, to reveal to ordinary people the answers to their troubles and to safeguard the city’s equilibrium. The magic has its price; Wizard must never have more than a dollar in his pocket, must remain celibate, and he must feed and protect the pigeons. But a threat to Seattle has begun to emerge in the portents. A malevolent force born of Wizard’s forgotten past has returned to prey upon his power and taunt him with images of his obscure history; and he is the only wizard in Seattle who can face the evil and save the city, his friends and himself.

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ROB WEBER, a regular guest at FanLit, developed a fantasy and science fiction addiction as well as a worrying Wheel of Time obsession during his college years. While the Wheel of Time has turned, the reading habit that continues to haunt him long after acquiring his BSc in environmental science. Rob keeps a blog at Val’s Random Comments.

View all posts by Rob Weber (guest)

7 comments

  1. Tizz /

    Another wonderful oldie but goodie — I went on from this to read her whole back catalogue. At the time, I loved her Windsinger series, and The Gypsy led on to Steven Brust!

  2. There is one Lindholm title I haven’t read yet, but of the others, I think this one is the best.

  3. Joel /

    Too bad this is long out of print. I scan the used bookstore every time I go with no luck.

  4. Tizz /

    @Joel
    Would it be creepy if I offered to send you my copy?

  5. Joel /

    @Tizz

    That is very kind of you! I would love to read it. Please email me at woemcats@[NOSPAM]gmail.com if you would like my address.

    (Obviously, remove [NOSPAM] from the address!)

    Thanks again!

  6. I read the recent Lindholm/Hobb collection which was fascinating because, as Rob says, the two styles are so completely different. It was the first Lindholm I had read. Rob, I think you described her style well.

  7. So different it is hard to believe they are the same person. Lindholm has written a science fiction novel called Alien Earth that made me wonder what a Robin Hobb science fiction story would look like.

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