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Wizard of the Pigeons
Megan Lindholm
Voyager, 298 pages

Wizard of the Pigeons
Megan Lindholm
Megan Lindholm, aka Robin Hobb, lives on a small farm in rural Roy, WA, with her four children and her fisherman husband, Fred. Hobbies include cleaning up after the children and intending to have a garden. Her tastes in music include psychedelic rock n' roll, twisted trad and quirky Celtic, and Sufi drumming.

ISFDB Bibliography: Robin Hobb
ISFDB Bibliography: Megan Lindholm
SF Site Review: The Golden Fool
SF Site Review: Luck of the Wheels
SF Site Review: Cloven Hooves
SF Site Review: Fool's Errand
SF Site Review: Mad Ship
SF Site Review: Ship of Magic
SF Site Review: The Farseer Trilogy
SF Site Review: The Farseer: Assassin's Quest
SF Site Review: The Farseer: Royal Assassin
Robin Hobb Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

It's easy to see why Wizard of the Pigeons turned so many heads when first published back in 1986. With the sub-genre of urban fantasy still in its formative stages, Megan Lindholm deftly manipulated many of the tropes that would become familiar touchstones in the years to come: The mentally ill Vietnam veteran, the outcast homeless, the invisible magic of street corners and back alleys.

There are no all-powerful dark lords to battle here, no world-threatening monsters to defeat. Instead, the trials the protagonists face here are of a much more intimate variety, more personal. That alone set it apart from the flood of Tolkien-inspired epic quests flooding bookstore shelves in the 80s. Just a few short years later, Mike Grell would use Seattle and its famous under-city as the setting for his landmark graphic novel Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, While Grell eschewed any magic of the supernatural sort, the themes and issues Lindholm wove through the pages of Wizard of the Pigeons influenced and flavored the pages of Longbow Hunters as well.

So, then, how does Wizard of the Pigeons stack up today, nearly two decades later? Surprisingly well, actually. For those readers familiar only with her more recent work as Robin Hobb, this book shows that Lindholm was no slouch when it came to spinning a good yarn, one that insisted the reader invest themselves emotionally in the protagonist's plight.

The main character here is Wizard, a homeless man living on the streets of Seattle who has perfected the art of blending in with polite society. He takes pains not to appear as one of the homeless, and his skill allows him a somewhat comfortable -- if tenuous -- existence. He is, naturally enough, a wizard of not insignificant power, charged with observing several rules necessary to retain that power: feed and protect pigeons; listen to people when they talk to him, even when what they say hurts; tell them what they need to know; and always give away more than he receives.

Other wizards populate the enchanted streets of Seattle as well, allies and friends of Wizard. Rasputin is a whirling dervish whose power lies in dance; Euripides safeguards wishes and makes magic with music; and Cassie, a wise and knowing figure who never appears in the same guise twice. The interactions of this colorful mix of characters ring true, and Lindholm establishes distinct personalities and spheres of influence with minimal words. To cite them as precursors to Neil Gaiman's Endless from the Sandman books is not too far of a stretch. And, like the infinitely powerful Endless from Gaiman's stories, life for the Seattle street wizards quickly grows complicated with the arrival of a powerful, malevolent force called Mir, whose coming is heralded by a chilling children's playground jump-rope rhyme:

Billy was a sniper, Billy got a gun,
Billy thought killing was fun fun fun.
How many slopes did Billy get?
One, two, three, four...
Much to Wizard's dismay, it's apparent from the start that he is the one Mir has come for. Worse still, the powers of his allies have negligible effect on Mir. After a disastrous first encounter with the entity, Wizard's resolve -- and sanity -- begin to crumble under the relentless attacks, which are subtle and cunning as often as they are overt and powerful. Armed only with a cast-off wizard Halloween costume that may or may not harbor a vast reservoir of power and a magical, never-ending bag of popcorn with which to feed his pigeons, Wizard steels himself as best as he's able to battle the overwhelming darkness of Mir, as well as his own inner demons.

As the viewpoint character, Wizard's perceptions become increasingly unreliable for the reader as his grasp of the situation steadily unravels. It's a common enough literary trick, but difficult to pull off without it becoming ham-fisted. Lindholm manages it nicely, though, and to her credit, had this book been published as mainstream instead of genre, many readers who'd turn their nose up at something as gauche as fantasy would have accepted Wizard of the Pigeons without so much as a quibble. The same scenario worked quite successfully for Terry Gilliam with The Fisher King and Wizard of the Pigeons boasts much the same flair and style.

In fact, it's quite easy to see how heavily Wizard of the Pigeons influenced the urban fantasy sub-genre through the late 80s and early 90s. Consciously or not, many creators drew heavily on the form and substance of Lindholm's work, and that's certainly a fine legacy for any writer.

Copyright © 2003 Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction, and serves as fiction editor for His website can be found at

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