2011, 480 p.
I must confess that I’m not a great speculative-fiction reader, although my husband is. I like the idea of it- the interplay of scenario, plot and character- but somehow one of them seems to miss out.
The scenario that underpins When We Have Wings is that medical technology and genetic manipulation has enabled those with the finances and desire to have wings grafted onto their backs. This self-selected elite is able to soar, literally, above the rather brutish and ugly city below, giving only grudging access to their beautiful architecture and affluent culture to the wingless, earth-bound masses below. It’s not clear what country the book is set in, although the reference to RARA (Rural and Regional Areas) suggests that it’s Australia, although obviously nation is no longer important in a society so hierarchically ordered by the class and status denoted by wings. Access to the city is limited and those without wings are relegated to service positions only, while outside the city boundaries, environmental change and the stripping out of wealth leaves a grubby and increasingly violent and deprived underclass. It’s set in the future, but it’s a future that is highly recognizable to us.
The book is told from two perspectives. The first is that of Peri, a young girl employed as a carer for baby Hugo, although it’s a much darker arrangement than this She is rewarded by her employers with wings, and it is with these wings that she absconds with Hugo. She is rescued by a group of rebel flyers who, while revelling in their wings, are resisting the corruption of the flying elite. The second perspective is that of Zeke, the wingless private detective who has been employed by Hugo’s father, to search for her.
The book has many things going for it: an engaging and rich premise; a female main character who reveals tenderness and fear; a bit of sex; a bit of a detective thread. Unfortunately, it’s also very long. I found myself wishing that there had been a sharper editorial pen deployed here, slashing some of the description of flight mechanics in particular. It’s 480 pages in length, and I’m just not sure that there’s enough emotional meat here- as distinct from ideas- to sustain such a long book.
I read this as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015.