S.G. Smith’s Te Kererū Book 2 – TERRIFIC NEW REVIEW By Neovictorian

Te Kererū

NEW REVIEW of SG Smith's Te Kererū - Book 2 By Neovictorian

Have you read Te Kererū – Book 2 yet?

Te Kererū by SG Smith is taking off. I’ve written about it here before including linking to a previous review by author and all-round ubermench NeoVictorian.

Te Kererū is the SECOND book in a new series, soon to become New Zealand’s most favourite speculative fiction.

What’s Te Kererū – The Book about?

The story centres around Kate, a young Pākehā girl orphaned in a landslide and now growing up in a Māori village set in a speculative New Zealand – an Aotearoa whose timeline diverged from our own perhaps just a few years ago.

Kate’s weird, but she’s sweetie and all is not what it seems. Kate is exceptional… it’s just no one knows how exception she really is.

In book two, Kate has grown up a little from the first book and she’s on the verge of womanhood, but her identity is something of a mystery to her and just about everyone else around her.

Neovictorian’s review

As Neo says in his review:

In Book 2, we follow Kate during her transition from girl to the edge of womanhood, learn a lot more about New Zealand society and Māori culture and life, and get deeply into the fascinating world that the author has created from the elements of the real New Zealand and her imagination

The world of Te Kererū is, as the author refers to it, “speculative fiction,” with the Māori group/clan and its village and the nearby city and lands specifically not closely based on any real life example. It seems to me to be a sort of idealized depiction, what could, and may, be in the future. I began to realize more as I read this second book that Kate is an archetype, a Stranger in a Strange Land who becomes embedded in a different culture and (perhaps?) brings new perspectives and a new integration of different worlds.


Read more of the review of Te Kererū – Book 2 here.

Still not sure ? Here’s an extract from Book 2 of Te Kererū

Kapa Haka Festival

Chef noticed all his students were pretty distracted during the week leading up to the Regional Kapa Haka Festival. Kate was the worst of them, though. She hardly did anything in class and didn’t seem to understand anything that anyone said to her.

Riki found that he and Temu were on their own. Kate sat with them but had become completely unreliable as a cooking partner. Temu was having to micromanage everything they gave Kate to do. ‘Kerū the sauce is bubbling over,’ Temu said, warning her to take the pot off the heat.

Kate looked at the pot and didn’t react at all, unable to give the pot the attention it needed. Temu grabbed the pot and moved it onto a trivet. Riki moved Kate away from the stove altogether. They sat Kate on a bar stool on the other side of the bench. 

She stayed there and looked at the recipe sheet for the rest of the cooking lesson. She wasn’t even capable of reading the card out to them. Temu and Riki had to read over Kate’s shoulder if they wanted to know what step they needed to do next. 

During the tasting at the end of each lesson, Chef noticed Kate didn’t taste anything. Concerned, he asked her if she was okay. ‘Katerina are you well?’ 

Kate didn’t hear him so Hine enlightened him. ‘Kerū is nervous about the festival next week. She will be fine on stage, but she doesn’t like the crowds of people there,’ Hine explained. 

Chef was completely taken aback. ‘Katerina performs with you on stage?’ Chef asked. He could not imagine Kate on stage in front of an audience.

Hine laughed. ‘Yeah, she does most years. When she doesn’t come down with the flu, that is,’ She confirmed that Kate had missed at least three festivals due to illness. The symptoms often seemed to clear up about the same time as the festival finished.

‘Mind you, Kerū doesn’t get a choice,’ Riki added. ‘Nobody asks her if she wants to join in. It’s kind of like a given. Everyone does it.’

Chef was impressed. ‘I would love to see your performance,’ Chef said enthusiastically.

To everyone’s amazement, Kate answered Chef. ‘You should come. We are really good this year,’ Kate admitted. From the expression on her face, it didn’t look like she was very happy about this.

Chef was having trouble understanding Kate. ‘Isn’t doing well, a good thing?’ Chef asked in a puzzled voice.

‘Yeah, it is,’ Riki answered. Then he turned to Kate. ‘Don’t worry about winning Kerū. Nobody’s gonna make you go to the finals. We’re going to do our best next week and worry about the finals later. Okay?’ Riki gave Kate a concerned stare. He didn’t want her overthinking.

The teens let Chef know the scheduled time of their performance. Chef was told to come early to get a seat in time. But they warned him he should let his kitchen know he’ll be late to work because the concert usually runs on Māori time

He looked confused at this, but the kids laughed and explained to Chef that nothing was rushed in Māori culture. For Māori, things being done properly is more important than things being done on time. Chef said this was the same in his culture.

Te Wai and Whiti hadn’t made it to class the entire week either. Hine told Chef they were busy with festival preparations. Whiti was helping with security and Te Wai was helping with everything else.

Over the weekend Kate started to contract symptoms of the flu. Everyone was concerned as she had an important role in the senior school’s performance. Rikihana didn’t stress, though. He already knew it was touch and go as to whether Kate would make the performance or not. Weeks ago he had recorded Kate’s solo part of the performance, just in case. It wasn’t the first time, someone had made a digital backup of Kate. And it wouldn’t be the last. 

On Sunday, Rikihana told Kate if her group won, he would use the recording at the finals. Rikihana assured Kate she wasn’t going to have to travel away with them. Temuera stopped by Kate’s whare and gave her some “flu medication”. The medication worked a treat. Kate was better in an hour. 

This actually backfired on the doctor because ever after, whenever anyone in the village came down with the actual flu, they wouldn’t believe that Temuera didn’t have anything for them. He ended up giving them the same placebo as he gave Kate. He would even tell them that it was a placebo, and often the “medication” still seemed to work.

When it was time for the festival, Kate was happy to leave with the first people going from the village each morning. This way she could arrive at the Events Centre before the crowds. The teens from the village were all supposed to help out throughout the festival rotating around the different duty stations. 

Kate just appointed herself backstage and stayed working there each day for the whole festival. There was no food allowed in the backstage area. So, this meant Kate didn’t eat until she went home each evening after the crowds had gone.

Even though most of the regional iwi knew about Kate they still were a little bit surprised to find a Pākehā helping out behind the scenes at the festival. They were never sure if they should speak Māori or in English with her. But Kate was naturally good with little children so most of the performers really took to her. Hanging out with Kate before their performance was often a highlight of the festival for some of the younger children. 

When performers of her own age came backstage, Kate found it hard to direct them. They knew who she was but she only spoke to them if they asked a question. She tolerated their stares and was too shy to speak otherwise. Of course, it probably didn’t help Kate’s confidence that the boys were all dressed as traditional warriors. Both the girls and boys were usually airbrush-tattooed and often were carrying traditional weapons. They were supposed to be intimidating. 

Kate knew that the young people knew how to use the weapons too. She had also been taught how to use some of them. Mostly Kate had been taught to use the ones they needed for the performances. However, Rikihana liked to make sure his students understood the practical use of the weapons they held. Kate didn’t like to think about the battles these same weapons had been used in. The haka they performed sometimes explained in very clear visual language what the performers would do to their enemies. 

Kate’s group were due to perform in the afternoon on the last day of the festival. On that day Kate was trying to deal with an extremely noisy group of teenagers. She wasn’t succeeding. She was worried that any moment the stagehands were going to come in and tell them all off.

‘Good work Keita. It’s great that you’re keeping everyone so quiet back here,’ a voice encouraged Kate sarcastically. She turned to discover Te Wai walking over to her. ‘You do realise if you’re directing people to be quiet. You actually have to speak to them.’

The room fell silent at this moment so everyone heard Te Wai. Kate went bright red and shied away from Te Wai who was already dressed in full costume for their performance. Kate had seen Te Wai dressed like this before but she usually was there while everyone was getting dressed. To suddenly have Te Wai walk in on her looking so dangerous but talking to her normally, was all a bit much.

‘Everyone’s next door getting dressed. We’re on after these guys. Come on let’s get you ready,’ Te Wai urged Kate, escorting her out the door. 

‘Bro, she thinks you’re gonna eat her, eh!’ a guy called out after them as they were leaving the room. 

‘I don’t think that,’ Kate said, quietly to Te Wai. 

Te Wai laughed. ‘I wouldn’t trust me so much if I was you,’ Te Wai teased. 

Kate laughed too. Despite the fact that she was starting to get the full onslaught of pre-stage nerves. ‘You’re only joking, right Tewa?’ Kate asked inquisitively.

‘Am I, Keita?’ Te Wai asked. Looking at her with his fearsome face.

In the room, Kate discovered everyone was dressed except for her. She wondered if they’d forgotten her. Kate soon discovered that they hadn’t. They were just putting off dealing with her until the last minute. Miriama, Rikihana’s wife, had Kate’s costume all laid out. Riki’s sisters, who were helping, immediately started undressing Kate. 

Kate knew there wasn’t much privacy in show business, but she didn’t let Ana take off her top until she made sure nobody was watching. What she didn’t realise was that she could still be seen just as well by some who knew the trick of using the various mirrors which were set up around the dressing room. 

As soon as Kate had her dress on, Miriama did her stage makeup. This included normal stage makeup plus black lipstick. Mia applied a temporary moko kauae – the traditional female tattoo which went below Kate’s lip to the bottom of her chin. 

She walked over to the mirror to check herself out. She felt she even looked intimidating. The black makeup really stood out making her skin look even paler than it normally did.

Whiti came over and stood with her. ‘You look really good Katie,’ he complimented her.

‘I look like I’m dead,’ Kate told him. 

‘Well you are the speaker for the dead,’ Whiti said hugging her. With their makeup on he couldn’t kiss her cheek.

They stared at their reflections standing together. ‘This is it Katie. We’re going back there today,’ Whiti told her. He wasn’t sad, neither was Kate. ‘Our parents will be joining us, you know that right?’

Kate nodded, even though she wasn’t sure her parents would know who she was. ‘Make sure you call clearly for them. Our families will have a voice once again,’ Whiti told Kate.

‘Are Nana and Mei watching?’ Kate asked. She knew she should care more about her dead parents than she did, but she was much more interested in her living family.

‘Yes, they’re sitting with Koro and Pāpara on the first row of the centre stand,’ Whiti told Kate so she would know where they were. He knew this would make her happy even though they wouldn’t be able to see the audience very well with the stage lights on them.

Hine came over and tucked Kate’s poi into the waist of her skirt for her. Kate noticed Hine was enjoying standing much too close to Whiti’s mostly naked body. Kate suspected Whiti knew Hine was doing this deliberately. But he didn’t move away from her either.

Chef was also waiting for the performance. He was sitting with two nice Māori women that were happily telling him what was going on in the performances. He had been there enjoying the performances all afternoon. 

He had noticed there was a pattern, too. Each group had a strong beginning formation with a few songs, at least one poi dance, and at least one haka, sometimes more than one. And sometimes there was a speech followed by a song, and then always a strong ending formation. 

Chef was impressed with how the teen performers kept so in time with each other. When the performers were finished but still on stage, groups of the audience also stood and gave a haka to acknowledge the performance. Chef noticed it was often the other performers who did this, along with adults, possibly family or friends.

The announcer came on stage. He gave most of the introductions in Te Reo. Usually, there was only minimal or no English translation and the women sitting with Chef interpreted for him. However, now, the announcer spoke in English. ‘This next performance is dedicated to all the victims of the Laketown landslide disaster. Two of the performers are landslide survivors who lost their families in the disaster,’ the announcer said. He asked the audience to welcome the performers to the stage.

After the welcome, Chef had never heard the audience become so quiet. Nobody had come on stage so far. The stage was empty, but a voice started to call out in Māori. The lady whispered to Chef, ‘She calls to the living and the dead.’ Hine came on stage as she continued to give this call.

Next, the whole group appeared on stage as well, chanting in unison. Chef could see they were his cooking students, but they looked much older in their costumes. ‘They answer for the living,’ the lady sitting to the right of Chef explained. Finally, another voice replied and the lady translated, ‘she answers for the dead.’ 

Then to Chef’s amazement, Kate came on stage continuing to give the call. The lady whispered to Chef, ‘This girl’s parents died in the landslide and she was adopted by the Regional Chief’s son. Chef already knew this about Kate, but he didn’t let on. Soon he noticed all the people around him had tears in their eyes. When Kate finished her call, she and Hine came together in a hongi. 

The audience went wild. Kate and Hine remained together until the audience settled down. Chef’s neighbour whispered, ‘They are sisters.’ Chef knew this already as well. But, for Chef, it was like seeing them truly for the first time. He was struck by the extreme contrast between the two beautiful girls. 

They were the same height but that was the only thing they had in common. The lights picked up Kate’s light hair and pale skin. She really did look the colour of death, while Hine looked healthy and alive.

Hine and Kate took their places with the rest of the group. Chef’s interpreter explained to Chef that this was the first time she’d ever seen the Pākehā sister in the front row. Next, the group sang a song. Chef’s interpreter explained that it was a song about normal everyday occurrences. The sun, the moon, and the stars. The earth, seasons, weather, babies being born, school days, weddings, anniversaries, and growing older. 

The next song had a poi dance in the middle of it. The woman explained that the song was about the rolling of the earth that occurred before the landslide. The group were so in unison that the swinging poi did look a lot like the waves of the earth moving in the quake. 

The next song was a full-on haka. The girls started off in the front but then the boys came through with expertly handled taiaha. The haka seemed to keep on coming. The girls joined in, coming to the front wielding patu and then the boys overtook them and went all out in the haka again. 

The performance really did feel like a landslide – a landslide of sound and emotions. It just kept on coming at you. Chef saw no trace of the fun-loving kind students that he taught each day. Even Kate had been transformed. Together, the group personified an unhindered destructive power. They were terrifying. It was the most disturbing thing that Chef had witnessed in a long time. The audience reacted even more wildly than before, so moved were they by the onslaught of the powerful haka. 

Te Wai stepped out of the group and gave a speech. The woman didn’t translate all of what Te Wai spoke about but Chef understood that Te Wai spoke about the history of the Laketown people. Te Wai spoke of the occurrence of the disaster. He spoke to the living and the dead. He encouraged the living to remember the dead, and he promised the dead that they would not be forgotten.

Te Wai’s speech was followed by a song that Chef recognised as a hymn, but it was sung in Māori. The song after that was to the tune of a song Chef recognised but couldn’t place; however, this version was in Māori. Halfway through, Whiti stepped out and spoke as the others continued singing.

The woman explained to Chef that Whiti’s speech was an oath that the survivors and the town had promised each other. They would work together to re-establish the town and go forward, never forgetting from where they had come. It ended with Whiti saying a prayer for the dead, the survivors, and the town. Then there was another song about working together and life activities.

The last item was another haka. It was a victory haka. This time it was about the people of Laketown rising up in unison and courage, to overcome the challenges and devastation that the landslide had caused. At one stage the entire group jumped into the air in unison and you could easily see beneath them to the back of the stage. The haka ended in a fantastic formation that showed the new shape of the region with the now collapsed part of the mountain and the shape of the landslide spill into the town.

The tribute haka that followed the performance happened again and again. These haka nearly lasted as long as the performance. Just about every section of the audience stood up and acknowledged the performance in turn. Everyone was in tears. Even the announcer was weeping as he thanked the group for their performance.

When they got back to their changing room the group were in shock at how well their performance had gone and the impact it had on the audience. They stood together as Rikihana said a karakia, a prayer of thankfulness for the power of the message they had been able to convey, and for the blessing of the people gathered who were open to receive the message. Then they sang the hymn they had sung on stage again. It was only after this that the group then felt they were free to enjoy the excitement of the success they had just had.

Soon lots of people were spilling into their changing room to congratulate them. Koro, Pāpara, Nana and Mei were there and the announcer came in with a lot of the backstage crew including other performers. Before she realised what was happening, Kate was in a crowd of people. She was nowhere near the door and felt like she had instantly been robbed of the joy of their success. 

Added to this, Kate had not eaten all day. She could tell something bad was going to happen. She just wasn’t sure what.

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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