Friday 28 June 2024

Brave Kāhu and the Pōrangi Magpie

Brave Kāhu and the Pōrangi Magpie by Shelley Burne-Field (Allen & Unwin), RRP $17.99 Middle Grade ISBN 9-781991-006608

Reviewed by Susan Hancy

Brave Kāhu and the Pōrangi Magpie is an adventure-packed and moving story about love, courage, family, acceptance and Māori legend. Poto and Whetū are sister kāhu [hawks] who are constantly bickering with each other. Poto is an excellent flyer and skillful hunter who thinks that she always knows best. Whetū is annoyed by Poto’s ‘perfection’ and by constantly being told what to do by her older (by a day) sister. Poto longs to spread her wings and fly away from the nest to the island of Rangitāhua, but she is held back by the need to help Māmā care for her “weird” (neurodiverse) younger brother, Ari. Ever since Pāpā was shot and killed the previous winter, Poto has had to take on more responsibilities for her whānau [family].

Today Poto has chosen to fly and have fun with Whetū rather than help Māmā teach Ari how to hunt. But when the sisters return to their nest, there is no sign of Māmā and Ari. Whetū wants to fly immediately to the hunting grounds to search for them, but Poto overrules her and insists they fly to the ancient totem tree instead. There they meet Poto’s friend, Nikau, who is a Matakite [visionary]. He predicts that an earthquake and great flood will destroy their valley in three days. He also sees that Māmā and Ari are in danger and they need to fly to the hunting grounds immediately. Heavy rain slows them down. If Poto had followed Whetū’s advice, they’d be there already. 

At the hunting grounds they encounter a tragic scene. Māmā has been killed and Poto suspects that she was attacked by makipai [magpies] – a species that was driven out of the valley a lifetime ago for causing trouble. Thankfully, Ari managed to escape, but he is injured and can’t fly. This hinders their escape to higher ground, away from the impending flood. Luckily for them, the sky spirits send a pair of ground-dwelling weka [woodhen] to their aid to guide Ari by foot.

What ensues is a race against time for Poto and her whānau to navigate the dangers on route and beat the flood, as well as fend off the fight-to-death attack from the flock of makipai led by the pōrangi [crazy] Tū who is intent on taking back the valley for herself.

This is the first novel by Shelley Burne-Field and it’s a gem. I hadn’t realised how invested I’d become in the main characters until the climactic fight scene against the magpies which took my heart for a rollercoaster ride, much like the daring flight paths of the hawks. From beginning to end, the language is vivid and poetic: ‘the notes dancing like tohetaka [dandelion] fluffy seed in the air’; ‘she was sleek like the shape of the wind itself”. And most importantly, all threads of the story are neatly wrapped up with satisfying explanations and character growth of both sisters.

Hats off to Shelley for the extensive use of Māori in this story. As a reader unfamiliar with the language, I had to “work”. I needed to refer to the glossary for the word meanings on countless occasions and then re-read the paragraph to regain the flow. My recommendation to other readers like me is to stick with it. By the end I’d developed a great appreciation for the language and feel all the richer for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Buzz Words Books would love to hear what you think.