by Laura Nicholas-Grieve
This novel has as its settings a Maori seaside village in Taranaki, and a nearby settlement of Europeans. The time is the historically crucial period between the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the beginning of the Land Wars. It is a time of uncertainty, yet one of numberless possibilities for the future. By the story’s end, many of these possibilities have been closed off.
At the heart of the novel is a love affair between Wikitoria, beautiful but willful daughter of the local chieftain Rawhiti, and Thomas, worthy son of the local European Methodist minister. Wikitoria is also the grand-daughter of the eponymous Rena, Rawhiti’s mother and a much respected tribal tohunga.
Considerable, often fascinating, detail is given concerning domestic customs and practices within the village, and how these are being threatened or changed by increasing contact with the culture of the settlers.
With obvious sympathy for almost all of her characters, the author takes us into the whare of the major protagonists, exploring the complex relationships between them. The trials and triumphs of the love affair are played out against the more general deterioration of relations between Maori and settlers. The reader is presented with an account of personal tragedies resulting from the intransigence or misunderstandings of individuals, and of the widespread tragedy resulting from the greed and arrogance of some of the settlers and the government as they trample over the willingness by many on both sides to live peaceably and with mutual respect.
By the end, Wikitoria and Thomas are apparently doomed to live separate lives – but there is a hint that the love story may not yet be quite over.
The author’s sincerity, and her enthusiasm for her characters, is ever apparent; though the writing style is at times overblown, and the sentences are often awkwardly constructed. These niggles are minor, however, compared to the, at times, irritating display of deficiencies in editing and proof reading.