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Reviewed by Nell Mace-David
Opening sentence
Human and supernatural worlds collide in gripping quest, reviewed by Nell Mace-David
It’s so familiar: that wailing cry of a karanga, the call that women do when they welcome you onto the marae… It feels like home.

But this isn’t home. I don’t know where this is.

Tui and Kae are twins, and they do not get along. Now, I know everyone thinks that twins should be best friends, but in Falling into Rarohenga by Steph Matuku, that’s just not how it is. It probably doesn’t help that they are polar opposites. Tui is a straight-A student, who would never dream of getting in trouble. Kae thinks school is useless, he would much rather be playing his ukulele, and he gets into trouble a lot, trouble that Tui is constantly having to get him out of.

That’s the crappy thing about being a twin. It’s like you’re connected by invisible cords that bleed if anything bad happens.

To make matters worse, Tui and Kae’s dad left when they were younger, or more accurately their mother divorced him when he got put in jail. Tui is with their mum on this, but Kae isn’t, which just widens the rift between them. They haven’t seen their dad in years, and they’re about to wish that it had stayed that way.

One day, Tui and Kae arrive home from school (Kae fresh from another fight) to find that their mother is gone. Like, just gone. The back door is open, she hasn’t taken her oh-so-precious laptop, and her room is a mess. Suspicious much?

When their frantic search leads them to their mother’s bedroom they are dragged into a giant portal (think a sinkhole that has suddenly appeared on the floor), and they fall… and get quite possibly the worst news of the day.

‘She’s been kidnapped. By your father.’

The ‘she’ in question is the twins’ mother, and while this may not be great, at least they know where she is, right? Not right. They appear to have fallen into Rarohenga, the Māori underworld. They don’t even know where they are, let alone where their mother is! But, they have to find her, and to do that, they must face everything from moa and a taniwha, to a disgruntled goddess and magic-induced amnesia. On top of that, they have to get back before the portal back to their world closes. Can they do it before it is too late?

Matuku has written a gripping tale of family and finding courage.

When I first saw this book on the review list, it was immediately my first pick, because I love, love, love a good fantasy book. Also, I am an avid Rick Riordan fan, so this seemed like it would be similar to his books, but just with Māori mythology instead. And, let me tell you, this book did not disappoint. I was hooked from the very first chapter, I just couldn’t put it down. I ended up devouring it in one sitting, partly due to the fact that it was a short book with a fast pace.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved this (no screeds of descriptive writing, yes please) but I almost feel as if it could have been a bit of a longer book. This may seem a bit hypocritical of me, but I think there could have been some more depth in the action, and maybe with some more in-between scenes. This may have been because this book started as a film script (something I found from the acknowledgements, and by the way, I would so watch that movie), but it probably could have been altered. However, I can completely understand that someone else might not want to be sitting there reading for hours on end, so while this may not have been suited to me, I’m sure there are other people who would love it.

Another thing that I really loved about this book was the characters. They were engaging, and they felt so real and relatable. I also really liked getting both Tui's and Kae’s points of view and different tones, which gave some variation to the story. Matuku managed this really well, the chapters didn’t feel disjointed. I did think that there could have been a few more people, or creatures, in Rarohenga. At times it just felt a bit empty and deserted, which seemed a bit weird because you would think the underworld would be packed.

One last thing that really drew me into this book was the storyline. I mean falling into Rarohenga and having to go on a quest, how cool is that? It also talks about important family relationships and dealing with divorce. And it was interesting to get a peek into Māori beliefs and mythology.

Sadly, at times, the same plot that I loved in parts felt a bit cliché in others. Take the whole ‘get back fast or you’ll miss your trip home’ theme. Many adventure books have this in them. I understand that a time limit has to be tied in somewhere so that the characters don’t spend forever wandering aimlessly, but I feel that there was probably a more creative way to do this.

In conclusion, this book was really good. I would recommend it to fans of Rick Riordan or similar authors, someone who wants a good adventure from the comfort of their chair, or anyone over 12 years of age. I will for sure be coming back to this one in the future, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did. Happy reading!

- Nell is 14, homeschooled, and lives in Dunedin
Author & Illustrator: Steph Matuku
Publisher: Huia
ISBN: 9781775506232
Format: Paperback
Publication: 2021
Ages: 12+
Themes: Supernatural, Māori mythology