Robin Hobb is one of my favorite authors – I’ve read her Farseer trilogy several times now, and it was one of the fantasy series that really solidified my love of the genre back in high school. As such, I’m always watching out for books written under her old pseudonym of Megan Lindholm; whenever I hit a used book store I go straight to the L section to see what I can dig up. I usually strike out, often finding “book two” in her old trilogies, but never book one or standalone books. You can imagine my excitement when I happened across Wizard of Pigeons, a short stand-alone novel.
Wizard of Pigeons is urban fantasy set in modern(ish) Seattle. It revolves around a homeless man who goes simply by Wizard, and who is granted certain powers of urban survival so long as he does not break a few rules. The magic system is fairly interesting a has a level of subtlety that is rarely seen – in some ways the powers of the characters in the book reminded me of aspects of the magic in the Nightwatch series. However, where this book really shines is in its description of downtown Seattle – the images and geography are spot on. Maybe it’s just my great love of the Emerald City, but I found the city descriptions to be incredibly evocative, so much that I could smell the air, feel the misty rain on my face, and taste the rich coffee.
After such a rousing endorsement of the setting I almost hate to type this next line, but alas… I’d be lying if I said I thought Wizard of Pigeons was worth the read. Where the environment and magic system where intriguing, the characters were less so. Wizard was kind of well developed, but the major secondary character drove me absolutely insane. I hated her so much that she actually managed to ruin a lot of the book for me. I wanted about 90% less screen time for her and 300% more screen time for the other wizards in the story, who were all interesting but didn’t get to be featured very heavily.
By the last quarter of the book I was literally only reading because it seemed like I didn’t have many pages left and it would be a shame to quit so close to the end. I wanted the final chapters to redeem the middle section that made me so angry, but I don’t think I was in much of a mindset to let it. I ended the book grumpy and disappointed, and though I recognized that the author made a bid at including her signature bittersweet finale, I couldn’t appreciate it.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone unless you are a particularly die-hard Robin Hobb fan, and also only if you have a strong stomach for extremely obnoxious female characters (ex: if Malta pissed you off during the Liveship Traders, don’t touch this book with a 10 foot pole). It may also be worth reading for lovers of Seattle, if only to see a beloved city in text form, and to have a little magic lent to the Market.