‘When We Have Wings’ by Claire Corbett


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.

aww-badge-2015-200x300I read this as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015.

5 responses to “‘When We Have Wings’ by Claire Corbett

  1. I tried but I just could not get into this book when the publisher sent it to me. Like you I’m not much keen on speculative fiction but out of curiosity I browsed the first few pages and then abandoned it, knowing it was not for me and that I wasn’t willing to give up the amount of time it would take to read. (Yes, I’ve come across a few A&U titles that could have used a scalpel too!)
    I didn’t review it, it wouldn’t have been fair, but I couldn’t find anyone willing to do a guest review. I still feel a bit guilty that there’s no place on my blog for this piece of debut fiction because I like to give new authors a go if I can.
    As a matter of interest, what made you pick it up if you don’t like Spec Fic?

    • Well, this is a little shout-out to the Australian Women Writers Challenge, because I read it because I saw that many people had reviewed it there. In fact, I even ordered it specially on the basis of the number of reviews.

  2. Well, there you go, I needn’t have worried, it’s getting plenty of reviews anyway and I can shed the guilt!

  3. Pingback: March Spec Fic Round-up | New Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

  4. Pingback: Spec Fic Focus on Dystopian and (Post-) Apocalyptic Fiction | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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