Thursday, December 29, 2016

Book 57: The Winged Histories

"I don't think writing is sorcery, something forbidden. I think it's more like a comb, it separates your hair more easily than you could with your fingers. It's like riding a horse to go somewhere instead of walking. You go to the same place, but you can carry more. I think writing is a horse. Or it might be a knife. An axe."

Dates read: May 29-June 1, 2016

Rating: 8/10

I am nothing if I am not a creature of habit, and one of those habits is that I refuse to jump into a series from anywhere but the beginning. Books, TV, movies...I don't care if everyone says the first one is bad, boring, or even just not necessary to understand what follows, I read/watch it. Which makes Netflix dangerous for many TV shows to watch right from the beginning! Usually that just means I get choice paralysis and decide to read instead.

Why this particular quirk of mine matters at all is that Sofia Samatar's The Winged Histories is technically a sequel, though more in a "take place in the same world as" and less "follows directly the characters from", as I understand. I wanted to read A Stranger In Olondria, but my local library system didn't have a copy and so I figured that from what I'd read about the book, I'd probably be okay this once not following my own rule and just picking it up. Which I'm kicking myself for now, because I think I would have gotten more out of The Winged Histories if I'd had some background in that world going in.

Which isn't to say that I didn't get anything, or even much, out of The Winged Histories without that background. On the contrary, I found the book beautifully written, and once I got myself grounded in its world, incredibly compelling. It follows four women: the warrior Tavis, Tialon, the daughter of a priest, Seren, a singer and Tavis's lover, and Tavis's sister Siski, a noblewoman, as the Olodrian empire is engulfed in war and rebellion, both internal and external. They're besieged by a neighboring civilization, one of their conquered territories is trying to break away, and a new religion is fighting for dominance with the traditional one...with rumors of people transforming into vampiric monsters growing in the countryside.

I don't usually read war stories, which tend to be men's stories. Endless descriptions of battles and tactical maneuvers make me lose interest quickly (they slowed down my reading of War and Peace significantly when I tackled that one in the summer of 2015). But this one was different: besides Tavis's necessarily martial perspective, the rest of the story dug into how the battles resonate far beyond the fields on which they are fought. The lives of each of these women is thrown into turmoil by the unsettled situation of their world: Tavis flees to the army to escape being used as a political pawn in marriage, Tialon suffers at the hands of her religious fanatic father, who ushers in the new religion and converts the emperor, Seren is a member of the people on whose behalf the civil portion of the war is being fought but who suffer for their "victory" as much or more than anyone, and Siski drowns her sorrow at being parted from the sweetheart of her youth in a hard partying lifestyle. These are technically spoilers, but if I hadn't read a similar summary as I was getting started I would have gotten completely lost in who meant what to whom and what was going on.

It does take a while to get into it and adjust to the setting and situations of the story. Until then, fortunately, the writing sustains interest. The writing is just gorgeous...lush, poetic, and emotionally evocative. There's very little "this happened, and then that happened" going on here, each of the four segments is written in loose clusters of interconnected plot points, full of flashbacks and questions raised that don't get answered until a later part of the story. By the end I could barely put it down. The book is a rich reward for a patient reader.

Tell me. blog you like war stories?

One year ago, I was reading: Hood

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Small Beer Press, through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and honest review**

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