- Series: Legends of the Five Directions
- Paperback: 398 pages
- Publisher: Five Directions Press; 1 edition (June 23, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 061598021X
- ISBN-13: 978-0615980218
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #688,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Paperback – June 23, 2014
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"A richly depicted, exciting adventure set amongst the Tatars of 16th-century Central Russia. Fans of historical romance will find this a delight." --Yangsze Choo, author of the acclaimed novel The Ghost Bride
"The Kremlin court of the not-yet-Terrible toddler Ivan and his mother-regent Elena Glinskaia, boyar intrigue, arranged political marriages, spirit animals and ancestors pointing the way to restoring balance and order in the universe--what more could a reader want except further adventures, which are heralded by the advent of another animal messenger?" --Ann M. Kleimola, professor of history, University of Nebraska
From a review of the first volume in the series: "Swiftly paced, with compelling characters and vivid scenes evoking distant Muscovy, The Golden Lynx is a find for lovers of historical fiction.... It is also unique in exploring the contrasts and tensions between sixteenth-century Tatar and Russian cultures." --Russian Life
From the Author
The best part about writing a series is that you have time to explore characters' lives and the society that forms them in depth. The Winged Horse, sequel to The Golden Lynx, offers my look at the nomadic lifestyle that has existed in Central Asia for millennia and is now disappearing under the impact of political and climate change, contrasted with the developed urban civilization that coexisted with pastoralism. I didn't know, when I began the book two years ago, that Russia's annexation of Crimea would give this fun story about two brothers fighting over a girl and a horde to call their own current political relevance! But indeed, one of the brothers has been hanging out in Crimea, so if you'd like an entertaining look at what the area was like before the Russians conquered it, this is a good place to start.
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Upon his deathbed, Bahadur Bey, leader of a horde of nomadic Tatars, makes the clan leaders swear to accept Ogodai, son of his blood brother Bulat Khan (descendent of Genghis Khan), as the horde’s new overlord. It is also agreed that Bahadur Bey’s daughter, Firuza will become Ogodai’s chief wife.
Tulpar, Bulat’s estranged son, arrives on the scene, and attempts to stake claim to the horde and also to Firuza. The conflict, plotting and intrigue begins: brother against brother in a struggle for both power and wife.
Firuza, no great beauty, but determined and intelligent, can choose either Ogodai or Tulpar, but the man who wins her must also accept her on an equal footing. Firuza’s struggle evokes the feisty women of this era, who refused to be treated as pawns, preferring to control their own destiny.
The Winged Horse sweeps the reader five centuries into the past in a well-told and swiftly-paced tale rich with culture and evocative description. It is also a tale of romance, and of horses. Amongst other horse lore, there is Firuza’s Turkmen palomino and Tulpar, the winged horse, who carried dying souls to the celestial hunting grounds.
As with C.P. Lesley’s first book in this series, I have once again thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the Tatars of 16th century Russia, and I would highly recommend The Winged Horse to historical fiction fans.
Like her first book in her Legends Of The Five Directions series, C.P. Lesley has once again brought the past to life in a rich and swiftly paced book. This is no tame romance nor a muscle-bound adventure. This is romance in a time and place where a woman had no say in who she married. This is brother against brother in a struggle for power after the murder of a kahn. This is about a woman who would not be a pawn. This is politics, 16th-century style.
The Mongol in modern imagination is the definition of alpha male – brutal, barbaric and bloodthirsty. "A man's greatest work is to break his enemies, to drive them before him, to take from them all the things that have been theirs, to hear the weeping of those who cherished them,” declared Genghis Khan (1162-1227). Historians estimate that the Mongol hordes slaughtered anywhere from 20 to 60 million people in the process of conquering an empire that stretched from China to the Caspian Sea. In one massacre alone, 700,000 people were reportedly killed. We’re talking traditional “man’s work” here – buckets of blood and destruction of civilizations.
But author C.P. Leslie knows what most readers (including me) would never suspect – Mongol women weren’t simply passive, timid camp followers providing bed entertainment and dishwashing for the boys. They enjoyed surprising respect and status within this supremely testosterone-driven society. Mongol women had the right to inherit property from their deceased husbands; could divorce. They wore trousers, drove carts, loaded camels, rode horses, routinely received military training, and could put an arrow through you at full gallop. Mongolian Empress Queen Manduhai the Wise (1449-1510) led an army in battle while pregnant (once while carrying twins), reunifying and ruling the eastern Mongol empire. Princess Khutulun was famous for both her beauty and her physical strength. According to Marco Polo, she refused to marry any man who couldn’t beat her in wrestling. A hundred men tried and failed, forfeiting a hundred horses each, and she died a spinster with a corral full of steeds. Apocryphal in some details, perhaps, but you get the point. Mongol women weren’t shrinking violets.
“The Winged Horse,” then, isn’t some politically-correct re-imagining of Mongol gender roles. Leslie’s feisty heroine Firuza (“turquoise” in Persian) is both possible and historically accurate.
It’s July 1534, midsummer evening. We’re crowded into a felt tent on the grassy steppe north of Crimea, and Firuza’s father, Bahadur Bey, aging leader of a fractious horde of nomadic Tartars, is feasting on a quail leg. Short hours later, he’s dying – of what? Indigestion? Poison? He summons clan leaders to his deathbed and makes them swear to accept Bulat Khan’s 19-year-old son, Ogodai, as the horde’s new overlord. Bulat is Bahadur’s blood brother and a descendent of Genghis Khan. He’s powerful and well-connected, tight with the encroaching Christian Russians. The two qarindash have also agreed that 18-year-old Firuza will marry Ogodai and become his chief wife.
Not everyone is happy with the deal. A dissident faction backs Bulat’s estranged son Tulpar, arguing for an alliance with the Muslim Khan of Crimea, and the plotting and intrigue begin. When Ogodai arrives to claim his horde and bride, he discovers he’ll have to win over a divided council – as well as Firuza. She can cast her lot with either Ogodai or Tulpar, and the man who wins her hand must accept her as an equal partner. She’s no harem beauty, but she’s tough, intelligent, and has a plan of her own for the clan’s future – delivered to her in a vision by the “Grandmothers.”
Firuza’s Nogai band is only nominally Muslim. In daily life, they practice shamanism and ancestor worship. The clan’s dead grandmothers travel in a tent on a wooden cart – a moveable shrine filled with spirit dolls dressed in clothes and lined upon an altar. They communicate through dreams of instruction and wisdom, like the one Firuza receives; they also deliver through the horde’s entranced shaman a surprise that propels the plot forward. Leslie’s priestess is a memorable creature. An old crone dressed in ragged skins, strips of leather, ropes and bells, with tinkling shells dangling from the brim of her fur-trimmed hat, she chants and mumbles snatches of Arabic as she circles the fire, rattle in hand, tossing mare’s milk and bits of meat fat into the flames before falling into a trance, allowing the dead Bahadur Bey to deliver his shocker.
“The Winged Horse” is rich with cultural exotica and imaginative re-creation. We’re swept backwards five centuries to an Eastern Europe of leather armor and Ottoman daggers, wrestling matches and horse races, a hooded eagle on a shoulder, a sheep’s head on a platter. As the horde packs up to decamp, Firuza is roused from her sleep by the “fragrance of rose petals and jasmine, citrus and lavender, wafting from veils, tunics and robes.” Historical dates are given in both Gregorian and Islamic calendars, reminding the reader that for Muslims time starts in our 622 A.D. We learn Chagatai Turkic served as the diplomatic language of the polyglot Tartar khanates (like French played in 18th-19th century Europe, and English does globally in the 21st). We discover that the deadly “black widow” spider is native to Central Asia – an entomological tidbit the author weaves into a clever assassination attempt perpetrated by a khan’s catamite (Ironically, “black widow” is a label given by the Russian press in 2002 to black-hijab- robed female suicide bombers from Muslim Chechnya).Horse lore provides the novel’s title, and peppers the pages. The heroine rides a “Turkmen palomino.” When forced by thirst, Tartars drank the blood of their horses. The winged horse Tulpar (Pegasus in Greek mythology) carried dying souls to the celestial hunting grounds. Small details that collectively create entertaining historical fiction, even without the gore.
Only one head rolls in Leslie’s novel (CNN today is twice as graphic), but the strong-willed spirit of Genghis Khan’s descendants infuses this fresh take on a much-maligned culture.
If you’re suffering from Regency romance fatigue, “The Winged Horse” is the perfect antidote.