Continue below to read my review of the book and be sure to follow this link - [TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on the 'To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl' blog tour brought to you by Storytellers On Tour and Benedict Patrick!
'To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl' takes place in Benedict Patrick's Yarnsworld universe and is referred to as a folktale, though it actually aligns more closely with Māori mythology.
I'm going to be very honest here.. it's not an OwnVoices story and that alone made me hesitant to read it because these types of tales specifically, are often incredible misrepresentations of the cultures being used in the settings. As a Polynesian woman, the Māori friends I have made over the years have thought just like my own people do. We see ourselves as brothers and sisters of the same origin.. despite the distance between our lands. We are all Polynesian.
Our beliefs.. our mythology.. our rituals are both different and still similar. One of the more interesting aspects of our cultural storytelling is the versatility. There can be many versions of a story without any being considered right or wrong.. and largely that's probably due to the fact most of our oldest tales have survived through a tradition of oral history.. but there's also a tendency to blend us all together, and that does happen a little here in my opinion. For once, it just wasn't a bad thing.
Kaimana is our main character, the Taniwha Girl who has defied the gods and won the freedom to spend her days roaming contentedly around the Crescent Atoll with her friend Rakau. Her tale, already becoming widely spread amongst the people of the islands, has also caught the attention of more powerful beings. Some of the islanders even pray to her and the gods aren't thrilled.
While the legend of the Taniwha Girl grows, made more real by the monster at her side, an ancient demon's plan for revenge is slowly advancing.. and a pawn follows her every movement. Ultimately, a choice is coming. One she cannot hide from. She'll either have to allow fate to play out for those who call the Crescent Atoll home while she continues to enjoy her solitude.. or she'll have to give everything up to save them. No easy decision.
Patrick does take quite a lot of creative license with the concepts of the gods and goddesses themselves, and in fact.. there are some characters that may exist for aesthetic purposes and seem to be taken more from other Polynesian cultures. But in this case, I'm okay with that.
Taniwha, monsters in the book, are specifically usually water creatures.. and though that's never mentioned here, the author does seem to hold to that theme based on those he includes. The approach the author uses is respectful of the cultures, his creativity unrestrained.. the tale seems to rather grow up and around the basis of the culture.. like a literary version of modern arboreal architecture. Co-existing with it, rather than tearing it down to build something new.
The work is deep, but not dense. Within the story itself, there are smaller tales of mythos about the gods and demons we're encountering. Some of those, such as the story of the Grandmother.. or the human wife of the sea god, are stunning even on their own.
I will say, it's an intensely emotional read. I love that Patrick did what felt right for the story, regardless of how I might feel about those choices as an invested reader. Much of it is deeply painful to experience. I spent so much of the book just.. angry. Angry at some of the characters. Angry at the situation. Angry at the writer for letting me feel so much anger.. and despair. And it was wonderful.
I'm not sure there has ever been another book that hurt me as much as this one did.. and I couldn't be more glad for it. I will absolutely be looking for more of the Yarnsworld titles, especially those involving Kaimana and Rakau. This wasn't just a story, it was an experience and a work of art.
This is easily one of the best titles of the year, not just amongst the indies either.. and if his other work is consistent with what I saw here, Benedict Patrick is a best-selling author just waiting to happen.
Benedict Patrick is from a small town in Northern Ireland called Banbridge, but has been living and working in Scotland since he moved there at the age of eighteen. Tragically, that was quite a while ago.
He has been writing for most of his life, and has been reading for pretty much all of it (with help from mum and dad at the beginning). Benedict's life changed when a substitute primary school teacher read his class part of The Hobbit and later loaned him the book – he fell in love with the fantasy genre and never looked back.