Off the Shelf


By Marcus Pan

MaoriAlan Dean Foster isn't all sci-fi and fantasy. Sometimes he's historically accurate and writes well-researched and believable forays into our own world. So while Spellsinger embodies Foster's silly side and Flinx is his anti-hero in the manner of Skywalker – he has a very serious side to him as well and this is prevalent in Maori, a story of New Zealand's colonization starting in the days of the whalers.

We are introduced at first to Robert Coffin – a captain of his own trading ship and owner of Coffin House, an out-of-the-way general store and supply house for seafaring men and whaling vessels. Also on ship, hitching a ride home, is maori medicine man Tohuto, which at first light leaned me to believe things were going to get mystical, sorcerous and fantastical – things that couldn't be further from the truth. This is a serious historical drama, kiddies – not for the lightning and fireball wielders of fantasy gruff.

Coffin House is based in Kororakea, the first European settlement in New Zealand. Robert plies his trade between importing much needed goods from the south islands and trading with the maori tribes indigenous to the area. His business grows to be the largest there, second to Tull House, and Maori takes us on his near life-long journey as a captain of ships, business and men as a new settlement vies to survive against a more barbarian, yet maybe not as immoral, people in a land distant from Coffin’s English roots.

Throughout this very long novel we are shown the ways of colonization. The fights against maori resistance with the European settlers. Battles with more viperous tribes and the burning of the original Kororakea. The growth of the businessmen of the small town and relocation to Auckland. The mistresses of Coffin that touched on different cultures mixed with a latticework of personalities on a small island. While long indeed, Maori is at its end very satisfying.

The novel culminates with the eruption of New Zealand's triple-peaked Mount Tarawera volcano in 1886 which destroyed the village of Tarawera, Coffin's last home, as well as the Pink and White Terraces of the area and old Robert Coffin. With only an epilogue left, this brings Maori to a close – a long and arduous, but fully satisfying novel with a strong level of authenticity and historical accuracy proving that Alan Dean Foster isn't just another sci-fi hack, even if some of his other series lend that rumor credence occasionally.

“Maori” by Alan Dean Foster
Cover Art by Jim Gurney
Copyright © 1900 by Alan Dean Foster
An Ace Book
ISBN: 0-441-51925-3

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