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The Winged Histories: a novel Hardcover – March 1, 2016

4.8 out of 5 stars 15 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Samatar's lush sequel to A Stranger in Olondria is a story of revolution, religion, and electrifying love in four distinct voices. Tavis is close kin to the current Telkan, the ruler of the fantasy realm of Olondria, but she leaves behind the expectations laid on noblewomen to become a soldier—and then, with her cousin Andasya, to lead a new rebellion. Other viewpoint characters are Tialon, daughter of Ivrom, the Priest of the Stone, whose cult is overthrown in the revolution; Seren, a young woman of the nomadic feredhai, who becomes the beloved of Tav; and Siski, Tav's sister and one-time love of Andasya, who is the sole bearer of Andasya's terrible secret. Samatar gives each woman her own style of storytelling and view of events, so that the reader sees this episode in Olondria's history as though looking upon the scene through four different windows. Each character weaves her experiences and observations into the land's folklore and mythology. Samatar refocuses these viewpoints to present something perpetually and pleasantly startling and unexpected. Her prose is by turns sharp and sumptuous, and always perfectly controlled. Samatar's writing strongly recalls Guy Gavriel Kay's fantasy, which reads like historical fiction, but there are strains here too of Jane Austen and something wilder. (Mar.)\n

Review

"All of it is harrowing — and written in such heart-stoppingly beautiful language there’s a good chance readers will ignore the plot and spend a few hours just chewing on the words, slowly, to draw out the flavor. Then they’ll need to read it again. Fortunately, this is a short book; also fortunately, there’s a lot of novel packed into relatively few pages. A highly recommended indulgence."
— N. K. Jemisin, New York Times Book Review

"Like an alchemist, Sofia Samatar spins golden landscapes and dazzling sentences. . . . The Winged Histories is a fantasy novel for those who take their sentences with the same slow, unfolding beauty as a cup of jasmine tea, and for adventurers like Tav, who are willing to charge ahead into the unknown."
Shelf Awareness (starred review)

"Pleasantly startling and unexpected. Her prose is by turns sharp and sumptuous, and always perfectly controlled. Samatar's writing strongly recalls Guy Gavriel Kay's fantasy, which reads like historical fiction, but there are strains here too of Jane Austen and something wilder."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Throughout it all, Samatar ponders weighty questions. "What is the difference between a king and a monster?" Tialon asks; "What is music?" wonders Seren. But Histories isn't a book about easy answers, any more than it's driven by plot. It's circuitous and hypnotic, told through flashbacks, meditations, and stories within stories. Tialon pores over a history book written by her aunt; Seren sifts through the traditional songs she sings. Rather than being distractions, these nested texts ring with lyricism.
"At the same time, they underscore one of Samatar's profound themes: how words make us, every bit as much as we make them. At one point Seren, waxing philosophical about the distinction between sorcery and literacy in Olondria, says that writing is "like riding a horse to go somewhere instead of walking. You go to the same place, but you can carry more." Accordingly, Samatar carries a great deal with her in the pages of The Winged Histories: beauty, wonder, and a soaring paean to the power of story."
— Jason Heller, NPR

"Told by four different women, it is a story of war; not epic battles of good and evil, but the attempt to make things right and the realities of violence wielded by one human against another, by one group against another. It’s about the aftermath of war, in which some things are better but others are worse. Above all, it’s a story about love—the terrible love that tears lives apart. Doomed love; impossible love; love that requires a rewriting of the rules, be it for a country, a person, or a story."
— Jenn Northington, Tor.com

“An imaginative, poetic, and dark meditation on how history gets made.”
Hello Beautiful

"This book. This perfect book." — Amal El-Mohtar, Lightspeed

If you love stories but distrust them, if you love language and can also see how it is used as a tool or a weapon in the maintenance of status quo, then read The Winged Histories."
— Marion Deeds, Fantasy Literature

"Tav, a teenage girl from the House of Telkan, ‘the most exalted bloodline’ in Olondria, has run away to become a swordmaiden in the army. As she fights alongside the men, she realizes the war is a distraction while the ruling branch of her family subjugates her native kingdom, Kestenya, and surrounding territories. . . . Samatar is a writer of uncommon beauty, and she takes a genre that has historically tended to focus on the heroic exploits of men and shows how those exploits involve and affect women. This novel teaches us the importance of giving voice to experience and bearing witness; as one character says, writing is less about words than ‘how we are written into one another. How this is history.’ A lyrical immersion into a finely wrought world." — Kirkus Reviews

"Samatar has created characters that you will carry around with you for weeks (months?). If you love strong voices, world-building, and books that tell hard truths with beautiful language, these are for you." — Jenn Northington, Book Riot

"Samatar’s use of poetic yet unpretentious language makes her one of the best writers of today. Reading her books is like sipping very rich mulled wine. The worldbuilding and characterization is exquisite. This suspenseful and elegiac book discusses the lives of fictional women in a fantasy setting who fear their histories will be lost in a way that is only too resonant with the hidden histories of women in our own age.” — Romantic Times Book Reviews

"In 2013 Sophia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria introduced us to new world described with such poetic verve that is has since become a living classic of fantasy fiction. With her new book, The Winged Histories, Samatar's great storytelling talent and wickedly beautiful prose takes us to an Olondria wracked by war. Despite this bloody and turbulent time, four women will have their voices resonate above the fray. Their stories and the stories they tell themselves are vivid portraits of women willing to challenge the conventional and fighting in myriad ways to be remembered. Samatar's creative use of a section titled "A Common History" unites the voices of these women to unrelated yet connected people or events which adds an emotive depth to the story. She also includes a richly imagined mythology that is shared by the characters, a scintillating vein of ideas bringing such beauty and darkness, but that helps us understand unearthly changes need to be embraced, despite our fears, in order to be truly free."
— Raul M. Chapa, BookPeople, Austin, TX

"Can I smear tears on a piece of paper and call that a review? This was GORGEOUS and emotionally bruising and so so wonderful and engaging and many other perfect words. There is so much world-building, a fascinating mythology, and beautiful language (I'm trying not to yell about Seren's little language lessons). There are amazing epigraphs, which I'm always a huge fan of. Samatar winds the stories of four very different women through a monumental period of Olondrian history, and it's one of the best reading experiences I've had in the last year. Poetic and bloody, lovely and dark, this is a book to be SAVORED, and I will be re-reading it again soon, at a much slower pace."
— Allison Senecal, Book Shop of Fort Collins

"Sofia Samatar's work is a revelation. Her prose has only become richer and more assured between her debut novel and this follow-up. The Winged Histories gives the stories of four women whose stories are linked by the events that shape them (and that they help to shape). The contexts of the complicated class and national histories the inform these women is described in such clear detail that I feel that I know them all, their histories and their inner realities. Amazing, incredible, lush, emotionally rich, politically fascinating, this is one of the most satisfying novels I have picked up in ages. It begs the reader in each moment to consider how histories are created, and the costs and inequalities behind how we all must fight to be a part of history, however it gets written."
— Gretchen Treu, A Room of One's Own, Madison, WI

“A nuanced and subtle tale of war, love, duty, family, and honor. It’s like polyphony—a chorus of voices singing different melodies, sometimes at odds, but ultimately harmonious. And moving. And exciting. Have I mentioned exciting?”
— Delia Sherman

“Sparse and magical, beautiful and terrible; The Winged Histories is a story spun out of stories and the lives of fierce women, each a warrior in her own right.”
— Nalo Hopkinson

“A brightly moving narrative that crystallizes into scenes as delicate, hard, and changing as ice, that rises up to meet four women in the midst of warfare, and the most devastating kinds of devotion and rebellion. It is astonishing what The Winged Histories does with language, what it does as a novel.”
— Amina Cain, author of Creature

Praise for A Stranger in Olondria

"It’s the rare first novel with no unnecessary parts – and, in terms of its elegant language, its sharp insights into believable characters, and its almost revelatory focus on the value and meaning of language and story, it’s the most impressive and intelligent first novel I expect to see this year, or perhaps for a while longer."
Locus

"The excerpt from Sofia Samatar's compelling novel A Stranger in Olondria should be enough to make you run out and buy the book. Just don't overlook her short "Selkie Stories Are for Losers," the best story about loss and love and selkies I've read in years."
— K. Tempest Bradford, NPR

"Sofia Samatar's debut fantasy A Stranger in Olondria is gloriously vivid and rich."
— Adam Roberts, The Guardian, Best Science Fiction Books of 2013

"Books can limit our experiences and reinforce the structures of empire. They can also transport us outside existing structures. The same book may do both in different ways or for different people. Samatar has written a novel that captures the ecstasy and pain of encountering the world through books, showing us bits and pieces of our contemporary world while also transporting us into a new one."
Bookslut

"The novel is full of subtle ideas and questions that never quite get answered. It is those dichotomies that lie at the heart of this novel, such as what is superstition and what is magic? How much do class and other prejudices affect how we view someone’s religion? Jevick often believes himself above such things, as does the current religious regime of Olondria, but in a way both are haunted until they believe. . . . Samatar gives us no easy answers and there are no villains in the book — simply ordinary people doing what they believe is right.
— io9.com

“As you might expect (or hope) from a novel that is in part about the painting of worlds with words, the prose in Stranger is glorious. Whether through imaginative individual word choices—my favourite here being the merchants rendered “delirious” by their own spices . . . Samatar is adept at evoking place, mood, and the impact of what is seen on the one describing it for us.”
­— Strange Horizons

"With characteristic wit, poise, and eloquence, Samatar delivers a story about our vulnerability to language and literature, and the simultaneous experience of power and surrender inherent in the acts of writing and reading."
— Amal El-Mohtar, Tor.com

"Samatar's sensual descriptions create a rich, strange landscape, allowing a lavish adventure to unfold that is haunting and unforgettable."
Library Journal (*starred review*)

“Sofia Samatar has an expansive imagination, a poetic and elegant style, and she writes stories so rich, with characters so full of life, they haunt you long after the story ends. A real pleasure.”
— Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and The Virgin of Flames

"Mesmerizing—a sustained and dreamy enchantment. A Stranger in Olondria reminds both Samatar's characters and her readers of the way stories make us long for far-away, even imaginary, places and how they also bring us home again."
— Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

"Let the world take note of this dazzling and accomplished fantasy. Sofia Samatar's debut novel is both exhilarating epic adventure and loving invocation of what it means to live through story, poetry, language. She writes like the heir of Ursula K. Le Guin and Gene Wolfe."
— Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble

"Imagine an inlaid cabinet, its drawers within drawers filled with spices, roses, amulets, bright cities, bones, and shadows. Sofia Samatar is a merchant of wonders, and her A Stranger in Olondria is a bookshop of dreams."
— Greer Gilman, author of Cloud & Ashes


"All of it is harrowing ― and written in such heart-stoppingly beautiful language there’s a good chance readers will ignore the plot and spend a few hours just chewing on the words, slowly, to draw out the flavor. Then they’ll need to read it again. Fortunately, this is a short book; also fortunately, there’s a lot of novel packed into relatively few pages. A highly recommended indulgence."
― N. K. Jemisin, New York Times Book Review

"Like an alchemist, Sofia Samatar spins golden landscapes and dazzling sentences. . . . The Winged Histories is a fantasy novel for those who take their sentences with the same slow, unfolding beauty as a cup of jasmine tea, and for adventurers like Tav, who are willing to charge ahead into the unknown."
Shelf Awareness (starred review)

"Pleasantly startling and unexpected. Her prose is by turns sharp and sumptuous, and always perfectly controlled. Samatar's writing strongly recalls Guy Gavriel Kay's fantasy, which reads like historical fiction, but there are strains here too of Jane Austen and something wilder."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Throughout it all, Samatar ponders weighty questions. "What is the difference between a king and a monster?" Tialon asks; "What is music?" wonders Seren. But Histories isn't a book about easy answers, any more than it's driven by plot. It's circuitous and hypnotic, told through flashbacks, meditations, and stories within stories. Tialon pores over a history book written by her aunt; Seren sifts through the traditional songs she sings. Rather than being distractions, these nested texts ring with lyricism.
"At the same time, they underscore one of Samatar's profound themes: how words make us, every bit as much as we make them. At one point Seren, waxing philosophical about the distinction between sorcery and literacy in Olondria, says that writing is "like riding a horse to go somewhere instead of walking. You go to the same place, but you can carry more." Accordingly, Samatar carries a great deal with her in the pages of The Winged Histories: beauty, wonder, and a soaring paean to the power of story."
― Jason Heller, NPR

"Told by four different women, it is a story of war; not epic battles of good and evil, but the attempt to make things right and the realities of violence wielded by one human against another, by one group against another. It’s about the aftermath of war, in which some things are better but others are worse. Above all, it’s a story about love―the terrible love that tears lives apart. Doomed love; impossible love; love that requires a rewriting of the rules, be it for a country, a person, or a story."
― Jenn Northington, Tor.com

“An imaginative, poetic, and dark meditation on how history gets made.”
Hello Beautiful

"This book. This perfect book." ― Amal El-Mohtar, Lightspeed

If you love stories but distrust them, if you love language and can also see how it is used as a tool or a weapon in the maintenance of status quo, then read The Winged Histories."
― Marion Deeds, Fantasy Literature

"Tav, a teenage girl from the House of Telkan, ‘the most exalted bloodline’ in Olondria, has run away to become a swordmaiden in the army. As she fights alongside the men, she realizes the war is a distraction while the ruling branch of her family subjugates her native kingdom, Kestenya, and surrounding territories. . . . Samatar is a writer of uncommon beauty, and she takes a genre that has historically tended to focus on the heroic exploits of men and shows how those exploits involve and affect women. This novel teaches us the importance of giving voice to experience and bearing witness; as one character says, writing is less about words than ‘how we are written into one another. How this is history.’ A lyrical immersion into a finely wrought world." ― Kirkus Reviews

"Samatar has created characters that you will carry around with you for weeks (months?). If you love strong voices, world-building, and books that tell hard truths with beautiful language, these are for you." ― Jenn Northington, Book Riot

"Samatar’s use of poetic yet unpretentious language makes her one of the best writers of today. Reading her books is like sipping very rich mulled wine. The worldbuilding and characterization is exquisite. This suspenseful and elegiac book discusses the lives of fictional women in a fantasy setting who fear their histories will be lost in a way that is only too resonant with the hidden histories of women in our own age.” ― Romantic Times Book Reviews

"In 2013 Sophia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria introduced us to new world described with such poetic verve that is has since become a living classic of fantasy fiction. With her new book, The Winged Histories, Samatar's great storytelling talent and wickedly beautiful prose takes us to an Olondria wracked by war. Despite this bloody and turbulent time, four women will have their voices resonate above the fray. Their stories and the stories they tell themselves are vivid portraits of women willing to challenge the conventional and fighting in myriad ways to be remembered. Samatar's creative use of a section titled "A Common History" unites the voices of these women to unrelated yet connected people or events which adds an emotive depth to the story. She also includes a richly imagined mythology that is shared by the characters, a scintillating vein of ideas bringing such beauty and darkness, but that helps us understand unearthly changes need to be embraced, despite our fears, in order to be truly free."
― Raul M. Chapa, BookPeople, Austin, TX

"Can I smear tears on a piece of paper and call that a review? This was GORGEOUS and emotionally bruising and so so wonderful and engaging and many other perfect words. There is so much world-building, a fascinating mythology, and beautiful language (I'm trying not to yell about Seren's little language lessons). There are amazing epigraphs, which I'm always a huge fan of. Samatar winds the stories of four very different women through a monumental period of Olondrian history, and it's one of the best reading experiences I've had in the last year. Poetic and bloody, lovely and dark, this is a book to be SAVORED, and I will be re-reading it again soon, at a much slower pace."
― Allison Senecal, Book Shop of Fort Collins

"Sofia Samatar's work is a revelation. Her prose has only become richer and more assured between her debut novel and this follow-up. The Winged Histories gives the stories of four women whose stories are linked by the events that shape them (and that they help to shape). The contexts of the complicated class and national histories the inform these women is described in such clear detail that I feel that I know them all, their histories and their inner realities. Amazing, incredible, lush, emotionally rich, politically fascinating, this is one of the most satisfying novels I have picked up in ages. It begs the reader in each moment to consider how histories are created, and the costs and inequalities behind how we all must fight to be a part of history, however it gets written."
― Gretchen Treu, A Room of One's Own, Madison, WI

“A nuanced and subtle tale of war, love, duty, family, and honor. It’s like polyphony―a chorus of voices singing different melodies, sometimes at odds, but ultimately harmonious. And moving. And exciting. Have I mentioned exciting?”
― Delia Sherman

“Sparse and magical, beautiful and terrible; The Winged Histories is a story spun out of stories and the lives of fierce women, each a warrior in her own right.”
― Nalo Hopkinson

“A brightly moving narrative that crystallizes into scenes as delicate, hard, and changing as ice, that rises up to meet four women in the midst of warfare, and the most devastating kinds of devotion and rebellion. It is astonishing what The Winged Histories does with language, what it does as a novel.”
― Amina Cain, author of Creature

Praise for A Stranger in Olondria

"It’s the rare first novel with no unnecessary parts – and, in terms of its elegant language, its sharp insights into believable characters, and its almost revelatory focus on the value and meaning of language and story, it’s the most impressive and intelligent first novel I expect to see this year, or perhaps for a while longer."
Locus

"The excerpt from Sofia Samatar's compelling novel A Stranger in Olondria should be enough to make you run out and buy the book. Just don't overlook her short "Selkie Stories Are for Losers," the best story about loss and love and selkies I've read in years."
― K. Tempest Bradford, NPR

"Sofia Samatar's debut fantasy A Stranger in Olondria is gloriously vivid and rich."
― Adam Roberts, The Guardian, Best Science Fiction Books of 2013

"Books can limit our experiences and reinforce the structures of empire. They can also transport us outside existing structures. The same book may do both in different ways or for different people. Samatar has written a novel that captures the ecstasy and pain of encountering the world through books, showing us bits and pieces of our contemporary world while also transporting us into a new one."
Bookslut

"The novel is full of subtle ideas and questions that never quite get answered. It is those dichotomies that lie at the heart of this novel, such as what is superstition and what is magic? How much do class and other prejudices affect how we view someone’s religion? Jevick often believes himself above such things, as does the current religious regime of Olondria, but in a way both are haunted until they believe. . . . Samatar gives us no easy answers and there are no villains in the book ― simply ordinary people doing what they believe is right.
― io9.com

“As you might expect (or hope) from a novel that is in part about the painting of worlds with words, the prose in Stranger is glorious. Whether through imaginative individual word choices―my favourite here being the merchants rendered “delirious” by their own spices . . . Samatar is adept at evoking place, mood, and the impact of what is seen on the one describing it for us.”
­― Strange Horizons

"With characteristic wit, poise, and eloquence, Samatar delivers a story about our vulnerability to language and literature, and the simultaneous experience of power and surrender inherent in the acts of writing and reading."
― Amal El-Mohtar, Tor.com

"Samatar's sensual descriptions create a rich, strange landscape, allowing a lavish adventure to unfold that is haunting and unforgettable."
Library Journal (*starred review*)

“Sofia Samatar has an expansive imagination, a poetic and elegant style, and she writes stories so rich, with characters so full of life, they haunt you long after the story ends. A real pleasure.”
― Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and The Virgin of Flames

"Mesmerizing―a sustained and dreamy enchantment. A Stranger in Olondria reminds both Samatar's characters and her readers of the way stories make us long for far-away, even imaginary, places and how they also bring us home again."
― Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

"Let the world take note of this dazzling and accomplished fantasy. Sofia Samatar's debut novel is both exhilarating epic adventure and loving invocation of what it means to live through story, poetry, language. She writes like the heir of Ursula K. Le Guin and Gene Wolfe."
― Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble

"Imagine an inlaid cabinet, its drawers within drawers filled with spices, roses, amulets, bright cities, bones, and shadows. Sofia Samatar is a merchant of wonders, and her A Stranger in Olondria is a bookshop of dreams."
― Greer Gilman, author of Cloud & Ashes

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Top international reviews

Sallie Raven
5.0 out of 5 stars 4 interrelated women's deep stories in one.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 22, 2018
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M. Faulkner
4.0 out of 5 stars ... punctuation and an unconventional storey telling method - but beautiful use of language
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 4, 2017
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