- Paperback: 337 pages
- Publisher: Small Beer Press; Reprint edition (April 25, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1618731378
- ISBN-13: 978-1618731371
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #552,110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Winged Histories Paperback – April 25, 2017
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This is easily the best fantasy novel I've read since The Traitor Baru Cormorant.
It shares many of that novel's concerns- the protagonists include queer women of color, the plot revolves around an effort to break up an empire, and it will wreck you emotionally. But where the earlier book deals with a 19th-20th century style overseas empire, a violent rupture, The Winged Histories deals with a land empire, with the kind of foundational violence countries try their best to bury and forget. It's also a gentler, more hopeful book, playing with tragedy without consummating it.
Structurally, Samatar's novel is composed of three first-person narratives, one after the other, followed by a third person narrative. We know the circumstances of the composition of the first three narratives. The implication is that the fourth character's tale is never recorded, that that point of view is lost to history. It contains the key which, unknown to the other three pov characters, unlocks many of the mysteries of their narratives. A powerful statement about what is and isn't remembered.
I don't want to spoil the ending of this book; it's too powerful. I will say that some things come too easily-- privileged outsider Tav integrates into a marginalized nomadic group and finds a lover, Tav's country gains the independence she seeks for it even as her war plans crumble on other fronts. But there are always consequences shown on the page, nonetheless.
The book contains both f/f and f/m romances involving pov characters-- I know that will recommend it to some of my readers. It's a very character-driven book; I was left with a lot of unanswered questions at the end and yet felt that each of the characters had achieved a satisfactory resolution. It's a sequel to A Stranger in Olondria, but I hadn't read that book, which focuses on different characters, and didn't feel lost at all.
The writing is lovely, even when it talks about ugly things. That's a trick I'd like to learn, how to include crude and bodily realities without breaking the aesthetic spell.
Tav refuses to be bound to her cultural norms of gender or love. She goes off to war, returns a wounded veteran, falls in love with a woman unapologetically and then goes off to fight another revolution. She’s just a character full of fire and determination. Even her language when speaking is crackling with that kind of intensity. It’s what makes the tragedy at the heart of this story so difficult to handle because someone like Tav should win. Someone like Tav should come out ahead and Samatar absolutely rips your heart out by not giving that to you.
Siski and her doomed love is the stuff of Shakespeare. It is so sad to watch it fall apart and yet Samatar manages to make it look beautiful the entire time. There was an elegance to the way the tragedy was presented. Society and fate ultimately trapped her to an end that it seemed she didn’t really want to find a way to escape from anyway. Just wait till you see how her story ends. It’s fitting and you still want to cry regardless.
You have to appreciate prose to read this book. You need to be in the mood for long, beautiful sentences. Be ready to relish the intricate details of food customs and dinner settings. You’ll want to bury your face in its fabrics. Each and every romance will leave its imprint on you long after you read it. Some books are like pizza, you love every bite but it’s really not a delicacy. THE WINGED HISTORIES is a four hundred dollar, three course meal with some wine thrown in. If you’re like me, you only do those every blue moon and you have to savor every moment of it.