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.