Hine and the Tohunga Portal by Ataria Sharman
The mythology of Māori culture really is a spectacular rollercoaster of action and adventure in and of itself. As Rick Riordan achieved with Percy Jackson, the modernising of the characters and ideas into a whole new environment creates a new audience and trajectory for these ancient concepts.
Ataria Sharman has taken a specifically chosen selection of Māori mythological figures and brought them into a fast paced epic battle within the spirit world that runs parallel to our own. From Mahuika (the woman that Māui stole fire from) to patupaiarehe (the fairy people), Sharman explores the magical world through the alternating narratives of Hine and her brother Hōhepa who are fighting over their kapa haka practices and the song he honore, when they encounter this portal to the spirit world.
Only, things are all well and good in this world. The evil Kae has used his power to begin creating an army of animals through a curse that blinds them and forces them to respond to his command. It seems the siblings must fight Kae to return peace and prosperity to the spirit realm.
Along the way they are helped and guided by a ragtag group of animals and mythological beings. From a mangy dog who has suffered a curse from Kae and is, in fact, a great warrior and expert at taiaha. Even the great moa and eagle, long extinct, have a purpose in the story.
The weaving of Māori iconography and beautifully incorporated reo is impressive. Sharman has clearly thought deeply about the celebration of language and imagery that this book holds. In addition, the humour adds a fantastic dimension to it. You can hear the characters speak as the dialogue unfolds.
Multiple narratives take the reader between the two main characters of Hine and Hōhepa as they traverse this magical environment separately. The camaraderie that is established with those they respectively encounter demonstrates the concepts of manaakitanga and quickly reinforces the importance of the natural world. The descriptions are rich and powerful.
The battle scenes have some fairly gory moments that may cause some alarm. A fair amount of blood is shed along the way and may cause some readers to be a little scared. However, it adds to the authenticity of the situation and creates a realistic atmosphere of war.
It is clear that there can be more developed in the story in subsequent books - perhaps even a series will be forthcoming? In the meantime, tamariki will love this exploration of Māori mythology and perhaps even learn a thing or two about tradition, culture and language along the way.
It is easy to see this becoming a classroom classic in the near future. Tau ke!
Reviewer: Chris Reed