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The Wind Singer    by William Nicholson order for
Wind Singer
by William Nicholson
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2000 (2000)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Twins Kestrel and Bowman live in the strange city of Amaranth, ruled by slogans, its psychic atmosphere somehow contaminated by the evil influence of the Morah. This place is every child's ultimate nightmare of a rigid, never ending system of school and examinations. Each individual and family is continually graded, and moved up and down in the ranks (color coded) of their society, depending on exam results. The twins are part of a loving family of five who just do not fit into the system.

After attending her two-year-old sister's first (disastrous) test, Kestrel rebels, gets herself and her family in serious trouble, and wins the doglike devotion of the snivelling underachiever Mumpo. A series of bizarre events result in the three children (Kestrel, Bowman and Mumpo) fleeing the city (where Kestrel's parents struggle on, attempting to foment rebellion) on quest to the Halls of Morah to regain the silver voice of the wind singer. This missing piece is essential to bring back kindness to their city.

As Kestrel says to her brother 'You're the one who feels, and I'm the one who does.' Her talent for action and his telepathic ability to commune with the minds of others slide them through a series of exciting and dangerous adventures in the salt caves, with the mud people, and across the barren plains to the Great Way. They travel by land-sailer and on the backs of wolves and eagles. Following close on their footsteps are first the 'old children' whose very touch is debilitating, and later the endless and unstoppable Zars, who chant 'Kill, kill, kill.'

The quest brings about a transformation of Mumpo, first into a skilled mud diver and 'rainbow porcupine' and eventually into an important participant, whose positive attitude forces the other two to re-evaluate their early contempt and pity for him and to wonder about his origins. Thisis an unusual fantasy, which reminded me a little of the classic Gormenghast series, for its world's strange inhabitants and their peculiar motivations. Overall The Wind Singer (first of a trilogy) is a compelling read, full of surprising encounters and fast-paced action.

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