I recently had the privilege of reading J.E. Purrazzi’s latest release, The Legend of Tawhiri! This book has been in the works for a while—originally as a blog serial that I never managed to make the time to read despite my interest—and I was super excited for the chance to read and review an ARC copy. (As always, opinions are still fully my own.)
What is The Legend of Tawhiri about?
There is a legend in the Archipelago. Long ago, the ocean grew weak, and feared for his heart. He took to the form of man and walked among the people.
Tawhiri was a gift from the ocean. Plucked from the waves as an infant. The people of the Islands know that the Ri, spirits of the ocean, abandon unwanted half-breeds on the shore. These demigods are destined to return to the sea and leave ruin in their wake. It has happened many times before.
Tawhiri has no interest in spirits or ruin. He loves his village, but as long as the elders forbid him from entering the ocean he cannot pass the tests which will allow him to be seen as a man and a full member of the tribe. When Kai’Ali, a friend whose twisted foot has held her back along with Tawhiri, passes the test and leaves him behind, the seeds of longing begin to grow in Tawhiri’s heart
Then the ocean begins to call to him.
Rating: 4.5 stars
There is a lot to be said for The Legend of Tawhiri, but perhaps what stood out to me most was its internal consistency—especially when it comes to the coming-of-age rites of the world. It’s not often that a fictional world takes its coming-of-age rites this seriously and is consistent in its treatment of those who have passed through and become adults vs. those who have not and are therefore still considered children, but that is what we see in The Legend of Tawhiri. Tawhiri’s restriction from his culture’s rite of passage not only withholds him from the privileges of adulthood but also exempts him from some of the behavioral expectations; he is allowed to act like a child despite his age
Not only do we see this consistency clearly, but we also see the shift that happens when you stop thinking of yourself as a child and begin to behave as an adult. So perhaps my favorite thing about this book was the way that the coming-of-age theme was handled and the way Purrazzi tied it intrinsically to the world and culture she designed.
The language, too, was consistent with the culture, utilizing Polynesian and south pacific island vocabulary and trading modern colloquialisms for phrases tied to the ocean and islands (e.g. “Now they were back on the same current” referring to characters coming back around to a tired topic).
But consistency wasn’t the world’s only strength. Purrazzi has clearly drawn from cultures and experiences she has intimate familiarity with, and the knowledge and love she has for the Polynesian- and south pacific-inspired setting. The settings are described in vivid detail that place the reader right into the wonder and peace of the characters’ surroundings, which not only makes for a lovely reading experience but also reflects perfectly on Tawhiri’s own love for the ocean and his island.
Moving on from the setting, the characters were all well-drawn. Though they fell into some easy tropes in certain ways, they were all thoroughly enjoyable to read and the cast was filled out well. Ooma was a great grandmotherly character, Kai’Ali’s relationship with Tawhiri was excellent all the way through, and Ihaka and Solbat both had perhaps surprising nuance.
Tawhiri himself was a compelling main character, torn between the life he knows and the life he both is drawn toward and fears. I admired his values from the outset—I can’t remember the last time I read about a male MC who was motivated by a desire to get married and provide for a family, and I think we need more of that—and the beginning and end of his arc came beautifully full-circle.
My biggest complaint with the book is the pacing around the middle of Tawhiri’s arc. While Tawhiri’s character arc started and ended consistently, I didn’t feel like the flow of his journey to get from one to the other was quite as smooth as it could have been. The first third of the book takes its time establishing the world, Tawhiri’s thoughts and values, etc., but the last two-thirds felt like they rushed through Tawhiri’s thoughts in places, not leaving the reader time to be as fully on-board with the shifts in his motivation as he seemed to be. That said, my “biggest complaint” is not really that big; I still quite enjoyed the whole book, even where it felt choppy.
Overall, this is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and I highly recommend checking it out!
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