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Four women, soldier, scholar, poet, and socialite, are caught up on different sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their families are torn apart, they fear they may disappear into the unwritten pages of history. Using the sword and the pen, the body and the voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history. Sofia Samatar is the author of the Crawford, Four women, soldier, scholar, poet, and socialite, are caught up on different sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their families are torn apart, they fear they may disappear into the unwritten pages of history. Using the sword and the pen, the body and the voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history. Sofia Samatar is the author of the Crawford, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy award-winning novel A Stranger in Olondria. She also received the John W. Campbell Award. She has written for the Guardian, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and many other publications. She lives in California. Her website is sofiasamatar.com. Praise for A Stranger in Olondria: "A book about the love of books. Her sentences are intoxicating and one can easily be lost in their intricacy. . . . Samatar's beautifully written book is one that will be treasured by book lovers everywhere."— Raul M. Chapa, BookPeople, Austin, Texas


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Four women, soldier, scholar, poet, and socialite, are caught up on different sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their families are torn apart, they fear they may disappear into the unwritten pages of history. Using the sword and the pen, the body and the voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history. Sofia Samatar is the author of the Crawford, Four women, soldier, scholar, poet, and socialite, are caught up on different sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their families are torn apart, they fear they may disappear into the unwritten pages of history. Using the sword and the pen, the body and the voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history. Sofia Samatar is the author of the Crawford, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy award-winning novel A Stranger in Olondria. She also received the John W. Campbell Award. She has written for the Guardian, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and many other publications. She lives in California. Her website is sofiasamatar.com. Praise for A Stranger in Olondria: "A book about the love of books. Her sentences are intoxicating and one can easily be lost in their intricacy. . . . Samatar's beautifully written book is one that will be treasured by book lovers everywhere."— Raul M. Chapa, BookPeople, Austin, Texas

30 review for The Winged Histories

  1. 5 out of 5

    Althea Ann

    One of my Hugo Award nominees, novel, 2016. ____ "A Stranger in Olondria" lured me in to the worlds evoked by Samatar's lush, poetic writing style. I had heard this was a companion piece to that book, so naturally sought it out. However, this is a very different book and only very tangentially (if at all) related - it stands wholly on its own. And - I liked it even better. The elements that I loved about Samatar's writing are all still here. While the form of the story is still not that of a trad One of my Hugo Award nominees, novel, 2016. ____ "A Stranger in Olondria" lured me in to the worlds evoked by Samatar's lush, poetic writing style. I had heard this was a companion piece to that book, so naturally sought it out. However, this is a very different book and only very tangentially (if at all) related - it stands wholly on its own. And - I liked it even better. The elements that I loved about Samatar's writing are all still here. While the form of the story is still not that of a traditional narrative, I think that the format used here is more successful. In 'The Winged Histories,' through four separate but interlocked stories, Samatar explores themes including nationalism, religion, war, and power, guilt and responsibility, freedom and oppression - and how these forces affect those whose lives are touched by them. I'm not sure I can fully logically justify the comparison, but as a whole, the book really reminded me quite a lot of (a shorter, more beautifully written) "War and Peace." The first story is that of Tavis - a rich girl with dreams of becoming a swordmaiden. In pursuit of those dreams, she runs away into the hills and, as part of a bandit gang, is infected with a passionate fervor for liberating the nation of Kestenya. On the face of it, this is a common plot line for fantasy novels, to the point of being a cliche. But is Tavis a hero? Are her goals truly noble? Do they even make sense in the context of her background? Is violence the way to make the world a better place? It's a complex, multi-faceted character sketch which effectively raises all kinds of thoughts regarding the intersection of personal and national identity. In the second part, another way of "making the world a better place" is explored. And it may me even worse than the way of the sword. We see the rise of a new religion through Tialon, the daughter of its main prophet. I very much enjoyed (and agreed with) this section, but I have to admit that it is the least nuanced part of the book. The author is clearly no fan of organized religion. Tialon is unequivocally oppressed, abused and brainwashed by her father and his radical beliefs. But her story is still wholly engaging, and I very much liked the illustration of how ancient texts can inform our understanding - but are undoubtedly always filtered through our own judgement, deciding what words are meaningful and which should be disregarded. Another way to change the world might be through art and music; the creative force. In the third section we meet Seren. The songs she has grown up with have come down to her unchanged through millennia. The women she knows express their very individual feelings through set forms. But perhaps Seren can write her own songs... This section, as appropriate for one told by a poet, is only tenuously 'prose,' falling more into the 'poetry' side of the spectrum. The final section of the book is narrated by Siski, a young woman who lives very much within the strictures of society, growing up without any major rebellion against the idea of doing what is expected of her. And what is expected of her seems to be that she will marry her beloved cousin Dasya in a mutually advantageous union. But a terrible secret is revealed, and Siski's reaction to that revelation may change everything. Rather than changing the world, Siski seeks to escape the horrors and pain of the world in a desperate flight into libertinage. The lives of these four very disparate women are more intimately connected than one might guess, and the ways in which their lives touch really draws the book together as a whole. Also, the 'feel' of the book begins as very much 'straight' historical fiction - but there's a fantasy (or horror?) element that gradually sneaks in, becomes critical to the story, and also works extremely well on several levels. If this had been a work of historical fiction analyzing the factions and crises of a real place, it would undoubtedly be hailed as a monumental novel capturing the complexity and soul of a nation. Because it is an imaginary place, it won't be. But it truly is a masterful work.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Algernon (Darth Anyan)

    ... for you are following a thread. For you are cloaked in dawn. For in a field you have found a hidden treasure. Cryptic words found on a stone considered holy by the people of Olondria. Words that are also a pretty accurate description of the second journey I have taken to this land of wonders, under the expert guidance of Sofia Samatar. The plot line that I follow is not a straight one, being closer in nature to Aryadne's thread through the labyrinth of the Minotaur. Likewise, there is an im ... for you are following a thread. For you are cloaked in dawn. For in a field you have found a hidden treasure. Cryptic words found on a stone considered holy by the people of Olondria. Words that are also a pretty accurate description of the second journey I have taken to this land of wonders, under the expert guidance of Sofia Samatar. The plot line that I follow is not a straight one, being closer in nature to Aryadne's thread through the labyrinth of the Minotaur. Likewise, there is an impression that monsters may be waiting at the end of the journey - mythical creatures from the distant past that can fly and like to drink the blood of their victims. These Dreveds have been hunted to extinction after they helped to establish the empire of Olondria in some long ago battle. The landscape, the people, the timeline and the action in Olondria are all broken up, fragmented, shrouded in the mist of war and legend. The task of the reader is not an easy one, and a lot of patience was required on my part to keep up with the new vocabulary and with the incomplete storylines. By comparison, the first Olondrian novel was a walk in the park, a whimsical paean to the power of the written word and to the role of imagination as a catalyst for change. History colours Olondria in this second novel with the bloodthirsty, cruel and terrible colours of war and famine and strife. To finish with my opening stanza, my patience was rewarded in the end by the small personal, intimate treasures that people can salvage after the steamroller of history has passed by. The Winged Histories had a relatively difficult start for me, putting me to sleep repeatedly after only a few pages of dense, obscure prose. Later I have been drawn me in and became involved both intellectually and emotionally with the slow build-up of cultural identiy and with the individual personalities caught in a violent war between the ruling Olondrians and their occupied neighbors from Bain and Kestenya. The narrative thread is woven together from four individual strands, four women who represent four ideologies, four social classes, four nations / cultures, four histories. It all starts with the History of the Sword, as told by Tavis of Ashenlo - a rich heiress related to the Telkan (the absolute ruler of the Olondrian Empire). Tavis runs away from home at fifteen to join the army fighting against 'savages' in the frozen mountains of the north Olondria. It is said that the sword is nobler than the arrow, because the sword extends the body, and to fight with it is to dance. It is said that the sword becomes its bearer's soul. Thul the Heretic only believed in his body because he saw it reflected in his sword. In the temple of Tol, it is common to say: "O Scarred God forever gone a-hunting, Thous has left me the pin from Thy hair." This pin, claim the priests, is the sword. Such ideas are poetry and not history. The sword maims and kills. Evil is its essence. Tavis would change the way of the world by violence, urging her Kesteny troops and her distant relations, the nomadic Feredhai tribes to rise in insurrection against the occupying Olondrians. In the capital of Olondria a different kind of revolution is taking place, as a new religion is sweeping all the old faiths and customs away and is not shy about burning and crucifying its opponents as heretics. Instead of a holy book, the new religion draws its inspiration from a stone, inscribed with obscure messages in ancient languages. The narrator is Tialon of Velvalinhu, daughter of the fiery prophet of the new religion. At a moment when two powers were struggling for Olondria's soul - the cult of Avalei with its mysticism, more magic than religion, and the wealthy barons of Nain, who cared for no religion at all - my father raised a two-edged sword against them both. Tialon is the opposite of Tavis, a recluse who knows nothing of the outside world, an ideologue whose whole life and identity is stifled by an authorian father. Yet there is wisdom to be found in the ancient texts, a wisdom that ambitious prophets and political leaders tend to disregard or to twist to their own purposes. The question Tialon asks of us is one that can be a defining one for our own history in the third millenium: What is the difference between a king and a monster? How can we tell the terrorists and the war criminals from the freedom fighters and the champions of liberty and democracy? Olondria doesn't offer a clear answer, and the messages written on the holy stone of the new cult can be read in a thousand different ways. Tialon sees virtue in diversity and mutual acceptance: But perhaps its true message was one of disintegration ... Or perhaps it spoke a message of unity we could not understand, one that did not unfold in language as my father thought, but rather in the way the lines crossed over one another, cutting across each other, one word into the next. If the message is not in the words but in the cutting. How flint etches stone, how diamond enters. How flesh intersects with flesh. Newer languages digging themselves into old ones, accounts of vampires into the meditations of some nameless saint. How we are written into one another. How this is history. After sword and stone it is the turn of song to be the carrier of the torch of history. What does an artist, a poet understand of rebellion, of old rivalries and of economic imperatives? Seren, the daughter of Larya of the seventh ausk of the Blue Feredhai of Tosk sings the old songs of her tribe, passed down faithfully from mother to daughter, songs of brave men gone to war, of bitter vendettas spanning generations, of empty hearths and orphaned children. These songs have remained unchanged from millenia, and Seren feels the need to invent a new song, a song to celebrate life instead of death, a song to capture and to hold close to her heart the wandering spirit of her secret lover (view spoiler)[ the same Tavis of Ashenlo that has send all the men of Seren's tribe to their death in a futile insurrection (hide spoiler)] The last part of the book is called the History of Flight , a coda of sorts to the three previous stories, told by a girl who witnessed everything yet didn't participate directly or subscribed to either the military, the religious or the artistic. Siski looks backward to a happy childhood at the rich mansion of Ashenlo, she remembers growing up with Tavis and with the heir apparent of the Olondrian Teklan. She is a refugee now, a runaway from home after a teenage drama involving her closest friends, a dissolute socialite who used men for fun and profit. Her inner landscape is bleaker than the Feredhai desert: In the desert there are empty places. Places of utter stillness, utter silence. The sky meets the rim of the world with no window, no escape. There is only sunlight, desolation, wind. The heart grows brittle. These are the regions known as 'the fires', or 'the seas of glass'. Yet Siski may hold the key to a treasure chest. When she opens it, she might find that her chest is in fact Pandora's Box. I'm being deliberately cryptic here, because I don't want to spoil the last revelations in the book. For me, the story of Siski is the denial of the 'big' history and the affirmation of the worth of individual lives, of self-discovery and of love as selflessness and sacrifice. It is also a promise of redemption to a nation tired after one too many wars. I am both exhausted by this strange novel and grateful for the opportunity to discover so much more depth, versatility and nuance in the writing of Sofia Samatar. The promise of the debut novel ("A Stranger in Olondria") have been exceeded here. I could force some comparison between her style and Guy Gavriel Kay or Patricia McKillip, but I believe she is unique and innovative in her presentation. Such comparisons might sound complimentary to a new writer who is put in the same league as such established luminaries of speculative fiction, but I believe fail to capture the true flavor and the thrill of discovery of what is for me a rising star in the genre. I can't wait to be surprised by what she will write next. I have breathed on shadows, as one breathes into a soap bubble, to give it breath and life. I did it because I had to, because human beings cannot live without history... - Tialon of Velvalinhu

  3. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. "Your body remembers war. This body I love. War has shaped the beloved body." So What's It About? Civil war has come to Olondria. In The Winged Histories we see what this war means to four women, drastically different yet alike in that their lives are shaken to the core by the chaos in their land. Tav dreams of being a swordmaiden, and she is one of the first to whisper of rebellion. Tialon reflects on a life wasted by the oppressive restrictions of her father's religion. Seren sings of her love f "Your body remembers war. This body I love. War has shaped the beloved body." So What's It About? Civil war has come to Olondria. In The Winged Histories we see what this war means to four women, drastically different yet alike in that their lives are shaken to the core by the chaos in their land. Tav dreams of being a swordmaiden, and she is one of the first to whisper of rebellion. Tialon reflects on a life wasted by the oppressive restrictions of her father's religion. Seren sings of her love for Tav and the cycles of life that she sees unfold all around her, and Siski learns to face what she left behind after a life of empty frivolity. What I Thought- The F Word If I hadn't been entirely convinced by the end of A Stranger in Olondria, I would now be entirely positive: Sofia Samatar has won my heart for life. In short, this is a beautiful, stunningly-written little marvel of a book, strange and sorrowful and full of heart-aching loveliness. I'm sure I can't say anything about Samatar's prose that hasn't been said more eloquently by someone else, but I've never read anyone who writes quite as deliberately yet fearlessly, in a way that is at once finely-tuned and effortlessly graceful. This is a book about war and its nation-spanning consequences and ugliness. It speaks to the cycles of oppression and rebellion that are doomed to repeat again and again, belief and tradition and fear. At its heart I think it is more than anything a story of women's resistance, and the many diverse, complex forms that this female resistance may take. Tav's resistance is expressed when she runs away to become a swordmaiden, and again when she helps incite the Kestenyan rebellion against Olondria. It is perhaps the most literal form of resistance, but Samatar would not be satisfied with her readers calling Tav a hero and moving along to the next story. We see the ugly, horrible repercussions of her actions - both for herself in the form of PTSD and slow healing from her suffering as a soldier and for the nation as a whole in the damage that is wrought by the conflict. It's a wonderfully nuanced undoing of the fighter girl trope, where strength is equated with a woman's ability to engage in traditionally masculine forms of violence. "It was the beginning of the dance of the mountains." Tialon's resistance comes in the tiniest and strangest forms as she lives a tiny and overwhelmingly restrictive life under the dark, repressive influence of her father's obsessive religion. The atmosphere of stillness, boredom and repression is absolutely stifling in this portion of the book, and we see the way that zealous devotion to religion stripped Tialon's father of all his joy in life, kindness and affection for others. Tialon was a character in A Stranger in Olondria, and her aid to Jevick is revealed as one of the only things she considers being meaningful in the entirety of her life. "The priest’s daughter read about the life that was going on in the palace. She drew pictures under the beam of her single candle, pictures of ladies and gentlemen walking and dancing and sitting down to meals at elegant tables. She knew all the styles of dress, how bodices changed from year to year, the fashions of hairpins, and whether the gentlemen were wearing their hair short or long, and sometimes she drew herself in the midst of the dancers, in a light carmine frock with a necklace of tourmalines and Evmeni pearls. She read the geographers, Elathuid the Voyager, Firdred of Bain, and she drew herself aboard ships, in hotels, in tents, on the pinnacles of mountains, and then sometimes in cities, in little parlors, among cousins, in the garden of an aunt who passed her an ice decorated with pink dust. She had to imagine the colors, as she possessed only charcoal. She drew in a frenzy of self-loathing and a sick, irresistible craving. Sometimes she made herself eat the charcoal as a sort of penance and vomited ecstatically over the balcony. At dawn the sky was so clear and almost green. And she felt bright and light. She always burned the drawings before she left her room. " Seren's resistance comes in the form of her insistence upon the necessity of "new songs." Living with her nomadic people and learning to spread ideas through song, she sees the way that her people are limited by their notions of gender and sexuality. One of the most interesting parts of the book was the treatment of lesbianism by Seren's people: they see it as something that is acceptable in little children, but any women who continues to love women into adulthood simply need to grow up. Ultimately, this belittlement and judgment leads Seren and Tav to strike off on their own into the wilderness, and leads to Seren's conclusion that there need to be new songs. "The men are going to war and the women are spinning. The women are spinning and the men are going to war. The men are going to war for the women. The women are singing the men to war. The men’s hearts grow hot and sharp as blades from the singing of the women. The women are memory. They are the memory of men, of those who have died. The men sing of the fallen and the women keep their songs and memories alive. The women spin threads that never break. The women are spinning shrouds. All the men and women are singing themselves to death." Siski's resistance comes in the form of her survival through the war and its aftermath, having lost all the trappings of her frivolous life as a socialite. There are so many fascinating components of Siski's story - from the misery of her and Tav's childhood home due to her father's rapidly-changing moods to the strange, horrible supernatural truth that she turns her back on when she is a teenager. Ultimately, her story is one of running and running from that horror and trying to lose herself in the pleasures of life, but ultimately being unable to keep running from her heart and what she owes to the man she loves. "By all the gods, had you turned into a dragon in front of me, I would have perished in fire before I ran away."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    This one is extremely difficult to review, mainly because I'm tempted more to appreciate it from afar rather than enjoy it up close. But there are passages where the reverse is entirely as true. Whereas the first novel was a straightforward love of literature and myth made up out of whole cloth and full of love of the act of writing, itself, among so many who refuse to read, the sequel is nothing less than a shattered land following the events that led to war in the first, and not only shattered This one is extremely difficult to review, mainly because I'm tempted more to appreciate it from afar rather than enjoy it up close. But there are passages where the reverse is entirely as true. Whereas the first novel was a straightforward love of literature and myth made up out of whole cloth and full of love of the act of writing, itself, among so many who refuse to read, the sequel is nothing less than a shattered land following the events that led to war in the first, and not only shattered by war, but also as shattered in prose. You see? I can appreciate the book's structure, it's sheer reliance on poetry and despair and song, (oh, especially song,) to convey a feeling, or a string of many layered and complex feelings and subjects, in the face of kings and monsters, family and one's love-life, of which there is quite a bit of LGBT, and quite beautifully done. So much is either dense world-building in terms of myth, historical rumination, straight stream-of-consciousness. Only occasionally do we have a bit of traditional storytelling, and more often than not, there's stories within stories. That's what I love. What I didn't love so much was the lack of attention-grabbing plot among the wonderful prose, or, as the case may be, the sad fact that I lost interest. Multiple times. That's not to say that certain characters keep showing up to provide threads I can hold on to, or to see how each of them change and develop over time, or how their perceptions of love or singing give them perspective on their identities, but these gems were buried fairly deep in the labyrinth of the prose and often it was a real chore to pay attention. I sometimes like to work for my read, it's true. But I want to feel like I'm going to get something really wonderful out of the challenge, too, and while this was all pretty wonderful poetry, I'm not sure it spoke to me as a whole. There were certain parts, such as the love story and the songs that really got me, but the rest of the book was kind of a let down At least in comparison to the previous one.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    3 - 3.5 stars My gut feeling is that this book probably deserves a higher rating than what I’m giving it right now, but I have to admit that my mind started wandering at about the 3/4 mark which somewhat tempered my overall enjoyment of the story, and I also think that I might have benefited from reading A Stranger in Olondria again before coming to this 'sequel'. I use the word in single quotes because I wouldn’t quite call this a direct sequel to Samatar’s previous novel, but it certainly has m 3 - 3.5 stars My gut feeling is that this book probably deserves a higher rating than what I’m giving it right now, but I have to admit that my mind started wandering at about the 3/4 mark which somewhat tempered my overall enjoyment of the story, and I also think that I might have benefited from reading A Stranger in Olondria again before coming to this 'sequel'. I use the word in single quotes because I wouldn’t quite call this a direct sequel to Samatar’s previous novel, but it certainly has much to do with it in both content and theme, though Jevick, the hero of the first book, is only mentioned obliquely once in the text and the story in this book could perhaps be considered ‘bigger’ in that it deals not only with the machinations for power of one of the leading families of the Olondrian empire, but also with both a war and rebellion that shake the status quo. Despite these ‘big events’, however, don’t think that this is anything like a standard epic fantasy centring on war and intrigue, its focus is fundamentally a personal one which zeroes in on the leading family, and more specifically its disaffected younger members who are tired of being used as pawns in the political manoeuvering of their elders. In many ways it is both a family saga and a bildungsroman as much as (or perhaps even more than) it is a tale of war and intrigue. Hmmm, I am starting to wonder if this sprawling nature and somewhat chimerical make-up is perhaps one of the elements that sometimes pushed me away from the story? The book itself is divided into four main segments, each centring on the life and trials of a different individual. ‘The History of the Sword’ is narrated by Tav, a daughter of the leading noble house of Olondria who has run away to become a swordmaiden/soldier in the ongoing war against another nation (the Brogyars) in an attempt to seize control over her own destiny and wield the kind of power her society generally does not afford to women. In the course of her military career Tav comes to see the futility of this war which seems to serve no purpose other than to cement the positions of those in power. In addition her eyes are opened to many of the injustices visited upon the people of Olondria, and especially her home province of Kestenya, by her own family and their political cronies. Ultimately Tav decides to take matters into her own hands and foment rebellion against these powers that be. ‘The History of the Stone’ switches gears and is where we come closest (in content anyway) to ‘Stranger’. It is the story of Tialon, the lonely daughter of the ascendant Priest of the Stone (both minor characters from ‘Stranger’) who struggles to find love in the midst of loneliness and purpose in a life that is arid and powerless. ‘The History of Music’ is the story of Seren, a poetess of the nomadic feredhai people and Tav’s lover. She provides something of an outsider’s view to the obsessions and tribulations that both haunt and drive Tav. ‘The History of Flight’ takes us back to the beginning in some ways as we get to see some of the same scenes and events recounted earlier from a different point of view. In this case we hear the story of her family from Siski, Tav’s sister, upon whose beauty and fecklessness the family has pinned all of their hopes of final ascendancy and ultimate political power. While she is unable to rebel in the straightforward manner of her sister, Siski proves to be more than a biddable puppet and travels her own path of rebellion that leads her to heartbreak and suffering. Aside from the protagonists of each of the main sections of the book two other characters loom large in all of the tales: one is the powerful matriarch Mardith, whose Machiavellian attempts to gain her family pre-eminence in Olondria begin to crumble in the face of the opposition presented by her unhappy nieces and nephew; the other is one whom we see only from the outside: the figure of Tav and Siski’s cousin, the doomed heir-apparent Dasya. While his importance to the lives of each of his cousins is central he is certainly seen by them in very different ways. To one sister he is a figure of hope, but also a tool that can be used to foment rebellion and right the perceived wrongs of the previous generation; to the other he is a tragic love whose dark secret will both break and bind their undying connection to each other. As is apparent this is primarily a book about the lives of women and the trials and tribulations they face in a world that is controlled (on the surface at least) by men. In each story we see the main female protagonist either breaking free from, or living within the constraints placed upon them by their male dominated society. Tav is perhaps the most obvious example of open rebellion to her lot as a ‘soft, gentle female’ in her espousal of the traditionally male role of soldier and its inherent reliance on violence to get its way. It is interesting to contrast her with the matriarch of the family, her Aunt Mardith, a woman who fully embraces the traditional roles of a female in her society, but whose strong will and wily intellect allow her to be the true power of the dynasty whom even the male members of her family fear. Seren is also something of a rebel amongst her people through her fierce desire to remain free and make her own choices, though she never fully rejects the ways her people. Instead she seems to use her acts of rebellion as opportunities to transmute the hidebound opinions and traditions of her people. While she never fully embraces any of the preconceptions her people have for their women, she also never seems to fully reject their ways either. It is an interesting balancing act. Tialon and Siski, on the other hand, are women who seem to live more as victims of the expectations of their family and society than as object examples of rebellion. Tialon spends the majority of her life locked away in Velvalinhu, the dwelling of the Olondrian kings, and thus the place where her power hungry father, Ivrom the Priest of the Stone, has set up residence in his attempts to control the king and his family through his new religion. Her life is little more than a tiring repetition of emptiness, helplessness, and endless ritual as her father continually ignores her every attempt at connecting with him and she can do little more than serve as an unwanted handmaiden, watching as her world begins to dissolve around her in the face of the rebellion against her father and his religion that gathers strength with each passing day. Siski is perhaps the most tragic figure in the novel. Initially a lover of the ease and enjoyment which her family’s position affords her, she soon becomes disaffected when she learns of the plans that her overbearing Aunt Mardith has for her and her beloved cousin Dasya, and nearly breaks when in addition to this Dasya reveals to her a horrifying secret that she must bear alone. Her act of rebellion comes as a literal escape when she runs away from her family and fully embraces the life of a libertine, leading on a string of lovers in an endless round of pleasure seeking and parties until she ultimately finds herself bereft of all friends and resources and decides to ultimately face the terrifying destiny from which she had so ineffectually tried to flee. There were times when I was reminded of Gene Wolfe while reading this book, especially in the first tale which at times felt disconnected and almost arbitrary as I was presented with many events the significance of which I couldn’t yet see or for which I had little or no context until after the tale was fully told (or the same events were seen later from a different perspective). Only then did the picture start to come together as a whole, though even so I would probably benefit from reading it over again with this new light now available to me. I was also somewhat reminded of John Crowley's The Deep, perhaps due to the focus on the internecine struggles for power of various interconnected noble families that was at the core of the story, but which never overshadowed the fact that it was the personal stories and lives they lived as unique and interesting individuals that was of central importance. Ultimately I think I can only re-state what I said at the beginning: I think this book probably deserves a higher rating and I fully expect it to fare better on a re-read now that I have more context for the details and events that Samatar doles out in each tale. Unsurprisingly with Samatar the language and images are often beautiful and striking and while I was occasionally stalled in some parts of the book it is certainly well worth the time and effort it demands of its readers.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    I didn’t always understand this book, but it is beautiful. This is a fantasy novel set in an empire during a time of civil war. It isn’t a story of battles or magic, but of the lives of four women involved in events: Tav is a noblewoman who runs off at a young age to join the army, and later helps foment rebellion; Tialon is the daughter of an ascetic priest whose zealotry and influence over the king have made more enemies than friends; Seren is a singer from a marginalized group of nomads, who b I didn’t always understand this book, but it is beautiful. This is a fantasy novel set in an empire during a time of civil war. It isn’t a story of battles or magic, but of the lives of four women involved in events: Tav is a noblewoman who runs off at a young age to join the army, and later helps foment rebellion; Tialon is the daughter of an ascetic priest whose zealotry and influence over the king have made more enemies than friends; Seren is a singer from a marginalized group of nomads, who becomes romantically involved with Tav; and Siski, Tav’s sister, is a socialite who’s running away from love but will finally have to face her fears. I tend to avoid books with multiple narrators, as they often run together, but here each section has a distinct format and structure, and some are in third person while others are in first; so the technique works well. The writing and imagery are particularly lovely, and the story comes together well. You do have to give it some time – the beginning can be confusing (perhaps less so if you’ve read A Stranger in Olondria), and I often found myself flipping back to re-read sections after learning new information. The book provides a wonderful mix of otherworldliness – it feels like only a small window on a strange and beautiful place – and real-world themes, concerning war, privilege, and the ways people use power over one another. I would have liked a bigger climax and more definite conclusion, but I enjoyed this book and would read another by this author.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Para (wanderer)

    Note: I have not read A Stranger in Olondria before The Winged Histories. It works perfectly fine as a standalone. This is one of my favourite novels of all time along with The Gray House and more recently  The Ten Thousand Doors of January . I first read it in the summer of 2017 and have been thinking it was a shame I never wrote up anything on it ever since. A book that means so much to me - that deserves words. Praise. Anything. So allow me to write something a little...extra ✨ I have Note: I have not read A Stranger in Olondria before The Winged Histories. It works perfectly fine as a standalone. This is one of my favourite novels of all time along with The Gray House and more recently  The Ten Thousand Doors of January . I first read it in the summer of 2017 and have been thinking it was a shame I never wrote up anything on it ever since. A book that means so much to me - that deserves words. Praise. Anything. So allow me to write something a little...extra ✨ I have breathed on shadows, as one breathes into a soap bubble, to give it breadth and life. I did it because I had to, because human beings cannot live without history, and I have no history or tradition that is not located in a pale, aggressive body lying in the dirt, or hanging from a tree.  [...]  What is the difference between a genius and a monster? It's so hard to set expectations correctly. Anything, anything you knew about fantasy and the paths stories take, their structure - it goes right out the window. Forget it. As much of literary fantasy, it avoids the beaten path. The simplest way to begin would be to say it is the stories of four women tangled up in a civil war: - Tavis, a soldier and a noblewoman and a rebel - Tialon, a scholar, the daughter of a famous priest - Seren, a feredha singer and storyteller - Siski, a socialite, Tav's sister I could attempt to write a plot summary as I do for any other story. I could tell about the civil war. Religious conflict. A desire for independence. Whispers of monsters. Except...except that's not what the book is about at all, not directly. It would miss the point by a mile. From my notes from the first time read, I initially thought the pacing was odd, but I was still expecting it to go the way most books go. A woman runs away from home to join the army and proves her worth to her male colleagues, the most familiar of stories. And again the except. Except the training is glossed over, except the war is pointless, except she is forced to return home with a broken leg. And her PoV section is only the first of the four. The rebellion and events leading to the civil war are, again, mentioned only in passing. In interludes. Scattered across all four sections. I thought I would not like each part of the book being from the PoV of a different character, it's a structure that usually bothers me, but I ended up liking them all. That mark on your face. Not a physical scar but a shade of expression, a cast. The look that said: I have killed and will kill again. A fierce look, I thought then. Now I think: broken. I think: lost. I already mentioned Tavis, the soldier, the one who got to make history, but her story is only the start. Next is Tialon whose history is so tied up in that of her famous father that there is barely anything of herself in it ("But we are not concerned with the child's memories. We are concerned with him, with his genius."). She tells of the other side of history, the great men who are cruel in private and what happens to those who end up on the "losing" side. Religious disputes. Her own loneliness and isolation. Seren's chapter is my favourite. It's the shortest and the least linear of the four, without any chapter breaks. The closest to poetry. And I get so lost in the writing I have a hard time describing what is it about. Stories, I suppose. Love and loss and the importance of songs. Siski I can't say much about (spoilers!), except that she's remembering the past and hiding a terrible secret. The word that comes to mind when I try to descibe the narrative style is impressionistic. Fragmentary. Because that's what the book is: sequences of impressions of these four women. Each narrator changes the style and the structure slightly, but there's nothing linear about it. Suddenly she will start telling about her past, then switch back to present. The various threads interweave, transitions are blurred, blink and you'll lose track and get confused. It loops back on itself, almost stream of consciousness. Really, the plot, the civil war, what would usually be in front, is the least of it. Obscured under so many layers that it becomes nearly invisible, told largely between the lines and in brief interludes between the four sections. It's a reverse story, a book turned inside-out. History told through feelings and memories of women* instead of achievments of great men. It was there in the desert that my blood returned, there that Seren taught me to seize black ants and snap them between my teeth, there that my heart came open in two halves and words poured out of it: my heart had not been empty after all. I talked night after night until I was hoarse. There was a curl of whiteness in the dark sky, what the feredhai call the track of the goddess Roun, the wake of her boat in the sea of the heavens and this is what was coming out of my heart, memories pouring out in waves. The prose is gorgeous and somehow close to my heart, quite possibly the best I've ever read. It's pure stained glass. It feels indulgent. I want to read it out loud. It gets stuck in my thoughts and I can't help channeling it a little even now. What I like the best is that it achieves the effect it does without ever being archaic or abusing the thesaurus. It's all rhetorical figure magic and it's near impossible to pick out quotes that'd do it justice, because half the beauty of it is in how a certain turn of phrase may be twisted and re-used a few pages later. I said the narrative is often all tangled up - it's the same with the prose. It reminds me of music. They murmur. They stroke her hands. They say: "I know." She wants to say no. She wants to say, you don't know, you don't know us. She wants to say: my sister and cousin made this war. You don't know how we have harnessed you and murdered you and made you refugees. She thinks: For this the gods cursed you with monsters. As the title says, it's a book about history, who tells it, who makes it, who is remembered, the biases, the bystanders, the ones caught in its flow, legends of monsters that may or may not be true. Most of all, Samatar reminds us that history is not only a chronological list of dates and achievements of great men - that it's far more than what it's usually reduced to. I love it for that, too. Of course, The Winged Histories would never be for everyone. I think it's even less accessible than The Gray House. The distance from plot alone is something many people will find grating, no matter how intentional. But if you love everything non-linear and poetic and experimental as much as I do, please give it a try. You will not regret it. * If you want a beautifully written nonfiction version of history told through personal stories of women, check out The Unwomanly Face of War . Warning: no book ever made me cry as much. Enjoyment: 5/5 Execution: 5/5 Recommended to: prose enthusiasts, fans of complex literary fantasy, those looking for woman-centric stories and representation (both LGBTQ+ and PoC), those who like experimental structure Not recommended to: those who require plot, those who like linear stories and hate confusion, fans of stories with a lot of magic More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    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 b 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. (And then maybe I'll write a much better review for this amazing book.)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    When you read anything by Sofia Samatar, you're in the wise hands of a beautiful poet. The Winged Histories goes beyond what she accomplished in A Stranger in Olandria, which is a book of formidable magic and strangeness. This one casts an even more powerful spell. When you read anything by Sofia Samatar, you're in the wise hands of a beautiful poet. The Winged Histories goes beyond what she accomplished in A Stranger in Olandria, which is a book of formidable magic and strangeness. This one casts an even more powerful spell.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Acqua

    Reading The Winged Histories felt like trying to hold onto smoke. It's the kind of novel that requires your full attention, one that never compromises for a moment in its journey to being the most lyrical headache the reader will ever have the luck to witness. The Winged Histories is a book about time, and who gets to make history. To say this feels reductive, because it's so much more, and there's no way I'll ever do it justice. It's about which viewpoints are lost, about what people remember, a Reading The Winged Histories felt like trying to hold onto smoke. It's the kind of novel that requires your full attention, one that never compromises for a moment in its journey to being the most lyrical headache the reader will ever have the luck to witness. The Winged Histories is a book about time, and who gets to make history. To say this feels reductive, because it's so much more, and there's no way I'll ever do it justice. It's about which viewpoints are lost, about what people remember, about which stories we decide to pass down to the next generations, and the all-encompassing nature of time, the way it erodes everything. The writing reflects this. It mimics the momentary nature of memory; it doesn't so much have time jumps as it has details and scenes sliding in and out of focus in an ever-changing kaleidoscope. (Like those, it has a tendency to make me dizzy. If you want to talk about this in terms of time jumps, there's about one for paragraph, and it's dreamlike also in the sense that a lot of it isn't actually reliable.) And it only makes sense for a book about the influence of time to get rid of it entirely in the narration. I felt like the last chapter was as much of a conclusion as it was an explanation for this very peculiar choice. I don't think it could have been written in any other way. This book is divided into four parts. I admit I struggled a lot with The History of the Stone - it needed to be there for the story to work, but also, I didn't care about the character this revolved around - and fell in love with The History of Music. There's a lot of music, a lot of poetry in these pages; it has always been one of the most important forms of storytelling for humans, after all. The History of Music is about songs and feels like one in itself, and in the way it talks about them, it focuses on a specific question about history - which stories are considered great? Which ones do we choose to tell? I feel like it's relevant to the fantasy genre as it is now, because it doesn't escape me how stories are still given more relevance if they're about death and gloss over the happiness, deeming it unimportant, frivolous, boring - just to get to the action, the fighting, the suffering. Something I've always thought is that suffering is easy. Fighting is easy. Talking about it might not be, but getting there is. I really don't think it's a case that this book doesn't even glance as something as easy as fight scenes during a revolution, and that its deepest, most beautiful, most emotional part is the one set after. There's political intrigue; there's war. None of it is really the point. The History of Music is also one of the two parts focusing on the two main queer women, Seren (the narrator in this part) and Tav. Tav gets her own part at the beginning, in The History of the Sword, which talks about the erasure of the achievements of women. As I am predictable, these parts ended up being my favorite ones. We see Seren and Tav's relationship in flashes; it feels more real than many we follow step for step. I loved this, and yet I didn't. It's dreamlike in a way that keeps evading me, and I feel like I need stories to be more tethered to enjoy them fully. This is not an actual criticism of the book; I don't think I'd change anything about it (maybe a more comprehensive glossary?). I also probably shouldn't have reached for it while preparing for one of the most difficult exams in my course. Content warnings: abusive family, references to addiction, incest between first cousins.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin

    "Four women — a soldier, a scholar, a poet, and a socialite — are caught up on opposing sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their loyalties and agendas and ideologies come into conflict, the four fear their lives may pass unrecorded. Using the sword and the pen, the body and the voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history." ______________________________________ Sofia Samatar's debut novel was the lovely A Stranger in Olondria, released in 2013, about a young island b "Four women — a soldier, a scholar, a poet, and a socialite — are caught up on opposing sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their loyalties and agendas and ideologies come into conflict, the four fear their lives may pass unrecorded. Using the sword and the pen, the body and the voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history." ______________________________________ Sofia Samatar's debut novel was the lovely A Stranger in Olondria, released in 2013, about a young island boy who journeys with his father, a trader, to the empire of Olondria, and becomes haunted by a ghost. The Winged Histories is the follow-up story. It's billed as a "companion novel" rather than a sequel as only two minor characters from the first book show up here and the main plot is not directly connected. So while it's not necessary to have read A Stranger in Olondria in order to read The Winged Histories, I would recommend it if only because it was a great read. The Winged Histories is itself a fantastic novel. Like I previously stated, it's not a direct sequel, taking tensions simmering in the background of the first book and putting them center stage here. The story is of a civil war, however, the conflict is not just political, but also cultural and religious as well. There also seems to be an undercurrent of an ancient Olondrian superstition running through this too. Like the blurb above says, the story follows four women on various sides of the civil war. Tavis/Tav is a girl from a noble family who defies her family to become a soldier and joins her cousin in launching a rebellion. Tialon is the scholar, the daughter of a priest of a cult that has supplanted the land's primary religion. Seren is a woman of a nomadic tribe often persecuted by the other ethnic groups and is also Tav's lover. Siski is Tav's sister and is the socialite, who has rejected her cousin and comes to regret it later. While the book deals with heavy themes of war and religion, it's more concerned with the effect on the characters and how each woman has made an impact on history. After an opening chapter that was slightly incoherent (perhaps deliberately?), the story is easy enough to follow, though it does jump back and forth between narratives and chronologies. I believe readers who are patient though will be rewarded. The prose is excellent. Samatar can certainly write and knows what she's doing. The Winged Histories is a fantastic, wonderful book and companion novel to the also lovely A Stranger in Olondria. Very highly recommended. Rating: 9/10.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sara Saab

    One of the most beautiful books I've read in my life. 10% in and my heart was already breaking. I have never felt place so keenly; that kind of unbearably true and unmoved and silent world adorned by the ornamentation of living, of trying to keep on living. This is particularly powerful in the lo-tech world of this book. Here, more than in our world, we feel people work around the world (just as Siski works round the presence of her father), while it regards them solemnly, sort of enthralled by One of the most beautiful books I've read in my life. 10% in and my heart was already breaking. I have never felt place so keenly; that kind of unbearably true and unmoved and silent world adorned by the ornamentation of living, of trying to keep on living. This is particularly powerful in the lo-tech world of this book. Here, more than in our world, we feel people work around the world (just as Siski works round the presence of her father), while it regards them solemnly, sort of enthralled by its own quiet cadences. I could not believe the glut of care I felt for Tav and Seren and Siski and Dasya: these characters people, these people so real, their childhoods and the cascades of hardship in their adulthood so round and full. Craftwise this is extraordinary. Abrupt and constant tense changes that would normally prickle are a beautiful dance of past, present, future. Time and place are fluid and wrap around the forward progression of each narrator's emotional journey. I read Stranger in Olondria and for large parts of the story had to discipline myself through it. I can't stress enough how different The Winged Histories is, how much more accomplished, how much more devastating. I can't get these characters out of my head. To be honest? I don't want to. I just sort of want to grunt and throw things for the fact of this book and the beauty of it. My one wish is that Tialon's section had been shorter or more entwined in the rest of the narrative. Tialon is the Greek chorus here, the outside voice that gives us reliable information and ups the stakes and leaves hints. But she's the one I care for the least, vastly outdone by the immense work of characterisation Samatar accomplishes with her others narrators. I hope (HOPE, HOPE) we get more Tav, Siski, Seren, Dasya one day.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jenia

    The Winged Histories is a book I absolutely adored. It tells of four women who are caught up in a civil war brewing in the country Olondria. The four are a soldier plotting rebellion, a priestess of an oppressive religion, a singer from a nomad culture, and a noblewoman escaping her family's intrigue. They all experience the war very differently and the relationships between them also varies: family, enemies, lovers, or strangers. The Winged Histories is told from each of their perspectives in t The Winged Histories is a book I absolutely adored. It tells of four women who are caught up in a civil war brewing in the country Olondria. The four are a soldier plotting rebellion, a priestess of an oppressive religion, a singer from a nomad culture, and a noblewoman escaping her family's intrigue. They all experience the war very differently and the relationships between them also varies: family, enemies, lovers, or strangers. The Winged Histories is told from each of their perspectives in turn, and is thus divided into four sections, each written in a distinct style. This is a book about women stories. Not just because all of the main characters are female, but also because their struggles echo women's struggles throughout history and today. In the broad sense, The Winged Histories is about an empire splitting apart at the seams: there's tension between followers of the old religion and the new, one of the territories wants to regain independence, and the crown prince is thinking of taking the throne early. Only one of the women takes a very active role in these conflicts. For all, the focus is on their personal reactions to society's expectations and their complex interpersonal relationships. Events of the present day are deftly interwoven with their memories of past conversations, critiques of cultural traditions, discussions of identity, or whatever else they find important to impart upon us at the time. The book is thus intricately constructed, both in terms of prose and in terms of themes (and in terms of background political maneuverings that you have to put together and possibly consult the generously provided family tree for). There is a lot packed into its 330 pages. I'm sure others will get something different out of it depending on their own experiences and I'm already looking forward to rereading it to see what changes. For now, I'll stick to the two things that stayed with me the most. So, for one, the writing is genuinely gorgeous. The prose is very strongly lyrical, particularly the singer's section, which is appropriately titled The History of Music and sometimes resembles blank verse. It's dense, a book that encourages pausing for a bit, both to digest and to savour what is written. The frequent time jumps do sometimes make following what is going on a little difficult. I found that if my attention wandered for just a sentence, I was suddenly ten years in the past and completely lost. But the book rewards reading slowly. I started dog-earing pages with passages I loved partway through. Here's one of the first ones I marked: "This field is for you," she told me once, "I'll never take it back." But she did take it back. The day I left she stood apart, near the artusa, while the others kissed me and patted my shoulders and wished me luck on the road. Her sunburned arms crossed and her gaze trained on the mountains. No white cloak today, no sign of grief. She was taking it back. Her hair and her voice and her breath and the scar where she had been bitten by a wild dog. "I yelled like fever," she told me. She was taking it all back. I wanted to be the first to turn away. I lost. The other thing that I keep thinking about is the book's deconstruction of the Girl Who Wants To Fight trope. You know - she runs away from home, she joins X where there's only men, she proves herself As Good As The Boys. It's a familiar trope to anybody who grew up devouring Tamora Pierce's books. The book opens with a girl (the future soldier) having run off to the military academy and refusing her aunt's attempts to take her back home. I felt myself on solid ground: awesome, the next few chapters are gonna be about her proving her worth, confronting the boys' prejudices, etc. Yeah, no. Two pages later it's after her graduation already; the army's caught up in senseless border skirmishes, forcing villagers to hand over their last food to avoid starvation themselves. It's a harsh critique of the idea that women warriors are always a score for equality - not when they're working so hard to be part of an empire's army. I found it an excellent slap in the face to start us off. Honestly, I could go on and on. There's so much I haven't touched on: the not-argument between soldier and singer on how (in)authentic identity construction can be, the bitter rumination on how blame gets assigned, the idea of writing oneself into and out of the historical narrative, the conflict between love and independence, the way love between two women is culturally treated as something to "grow out of", the bias or impartiality of history (and which one's better), and, oh yeah, it's not fully clear 'till the end if the mythical monsters from lore are what they seem to be - or if they even exist... This was one of my favourite reads of 2017 and it's highly recommended. Especially recommended for: People who are fans of N.K. Jemisin's work (especially her take on social issues) and want a book that comes with high praise by her People who want to read more female-centric fantasy People who focus a lot on the prose and like authors like Guy Gavriel Kay, Catherynne M. Valente, Ellen Kushner People who enjoy epic fantasy but want something new People who love Tamora Pierce and want to see a more nuanced take on the Action Girl trope People searching for a well-written lesbian romance (and I guess there's a het couple too)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Aneta

    We are such frail creatures, we—I still can't write the word. How did we conquer anyone? How did we terrorize the world? We, with our burdens. Our pain. Our fear. Our woe. Our wings. Reading this book was like a religious experience. Fuck. Stylistically, it is very much not for everyone, but it was a perfect fit for me. * It's not so much non-linear as it straight-out laughs in the face of chronology. It's like a puzzle, whose pieces are slowly revealed (e.g. there's a crucial flashback we only We are such frail creatures, we—I still can't write the word. How did we conquer anyone? How did we terrorize the world? We, with our burdens. Our pain. Our fear. Our woe. Our wings. Reading this book was like a religious experience. Fuck. Stylistically, it is very much not for everyone, but it was a perfect fit for me. * It's not so much non-linear as it straight-out laughs in the face of chronology. It's like a puzzle, whose pieces are slowly revealed (e.g. there's a crucial flashback we only get to see at the very end, or we only learn a character's reasoning for doing something long after it was done). * It's told from multiple perspectives. * The narrators are unreliable. * It's slow and character-driven, not at all action-packed. In fact, all the epic action scenes happen off-page. The narration is scattered, but never messy. Always calculated. The feathers are in the air, suspended, and they are not falling down until it is time for them to fall. The writing is to die for, and any words I write here cannot give the language justice so I'm not even going to try. The themes are perfection. The book deals with war and rebellion but it does so differently than others. There are no epic battles here, unless we count the inner battles of the heart. The Winged Histories is a journey through a broken landscape: of an empire, of a family, of the characters' inner souls. It deals with war but instead of focusing on it, the focus is on the people wounded by it. We have the theme of rebellion, both armed and personal, the theme of striving for freedom: from controlling family, societal expectations, oppressive government, oppressive religion, shame, guilt, grief. A curse. The clash of generations. How history is written: how one day you are a hero, and the next your portrait is being publicly burned. I love unreliable narrators. This book does unreliable narration SO WELL. Without spoiling, Tialon's tale is a perfect example (I am still shooketh, completely unironically). We see the same scenes and events through entirely different lenses. It's perfectly showcased by the character of Andasya. Throughout the book, we get to see him from different perspectives, and they are all vastly different. (view spoiler)[To Tav, he is the beloved cousin, the noble leader, the spark of hope for freedom. To Tialon, he's a lost boy at first, then: butcher, madman. To Seren, he's a distant figure, the anonymous source of Tav's anguish and that of her people. To the people of Olondria he is the perfect prince, their future king, then: traitor, monster to scare their children with. And finally, in the end, we get to see him as he sees himself: a lonely, selfish coward, who broke an empire in half in a futile attempt to avert his own doom. (hide spoiler)] There is so much more in my head that I don't feel eloquent to write about so, briefly, some other things I loved: - Tav and Seren. My heart. Too pure. - Tav and Siski and Dasya as children. - (view spoiler)[Siski and Dasya. Despite everything. Their romantic storyline did make me uncomfortable (I can't imagine becoming lovers with my cousin, and even the thought of it weirds me out), but their story was just so tragic and heartbreaking. I'm a sucker for those. Plus, it helped that Siski herself knew it was wrong and the narrative never implied it was okay. (hide spoiler)] - The three things that absolutely fucking destroyed me: Tialon's final confession, Seren's song, Dasya's letter. - The songs woven into text. - Siski's internal journey. - The horses, but especially Tuik. - All the imagery related to nature. - The worldbuilding felt really organic. - Tialon's complicated relationship with the word "run". - Even the chapter titles are poetry. - (view spoiler)[The fates of the master manipulators, Ivrom and Mardith: their life's work undone, their ambitions foiled by the younger generation. Even if the price for rebellion was so steep. (hide spoiler)] CW: (view spoiler)[No one here has mentioned that this book contains incest between first cousins who are practically siblings (their parents are siblings on both sides). Are we too edgy in sff to even mention that at this point? I don't think we should be. The relationship isn't explicit but it's in there and it's uncomfortable to read about. To be fair to the book, it was meant to be. (hide spoiler)]

  15. 5 out of 5

    rosamund

    The four parts of this novel are each told by a different woman. Their narratives interconnect, and sometimes directly interact with one another, but they each give a different perspective on one subject: civil war in the imaginary country of Olondria. The novel deliberately shows us the perspective of different women in a mainly patriarchal society so that it can ask the reader to consider women's role in war and in written history in our own world. I reread this book's companion, "A Stranger i The four parts of this novel are each told by a different woman. Their narratives interconnect, and sometimes directly interact with one another, but they each give a different perspective on one subject: civil war in the imaginary country of Olondria. The novel deliberately shows us the perspective of different women in a mainly patriarchal society so that it can ask the reader to consider women's role in war and in written history in our own world. I reread this book's companion, "A Stranger in Olondria", shortly before I read this, so I couldn't help making comparisons. I do not think it is necessary to read one of these books first, because they tell different stories, though they occur around the same time. One of the strongest sections in "A Stronger in Olondria", is told from the perspective of Jissavet, an illiterate woman far from her home, who tells her own story to the protagonist of the novel. The writing of her section is vivid, full of details, and elliptical, wandering back and forth between moments of Jissavet's life that she found particularly vital or charged. This section is immersive and compelling. The majority of "The Winged Histories" is written in exactly this style: full of details of vivid memories that evoke the feelings of loss, full of repeated words and themes. It wanders away from the story into the protagonists' memories and pasts, and returns us to the narrative feeling their loss and nostalgia. Writing this intense must be very hard to sustain, but for the most part, I felt it worked. From time to time I felt Samatar gave too many repetitions or wandered too far, but generally I was hooked. Samatar is not overly concerned with plot. We hear about most of the events only as they are reported. The main characters frequently are not there for them, or observe them from a distance. Again, I feel this is deliberate: women are frequently denied a place at the forefront of the action, and so are left wondering, and desperate for news. However, at times Samatar does have female characters at the centre of action, but at these times she usually doesn't write their story directly but against tells it after the fact, which can be frustrating for the reader and made me feel that her characters are sometimes denied agency. The lack of plot, however, didn't impact on my engagement with this book much at all. Each character, and their personal history, is richly drawn and given space. We see Seren, the nomad, and learn about her people's culture and song, and we meet Tav, the soldier, and we watch as they learn to love one another. Then we have Siski, socialite and lover of the king, who gets just as much narrative space as more dynamic characters, and whose inner world is wonderfully rendered by Samatar. Perhaps the most difficult character is Tialon, whose father was the powerful Priest of the Stone, and who has been deemed a heretic during the civil war. Tialon's narrative takes place while she is locked in her room by soldiers, and when she is powerless. But she has been powerless for most of her life, and we see her grapple with her lack of agency, and her longing for some form of kindness. She is given hope of a happy ending, and this, Samatar's refusal to abandon her characters to grief, is something I found winning and almost revolutionary. These two novels could be compared with Borges at his best, or Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities". They are told in gripping, original prose, that should remain part of our literature for a long time, and even when Samatar's prose fails to do what she wants, it is still interesting and worthwhile. I would recommend both these books without question.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    I wouldn’t normally taunt you with a book you can’t have for two months, but this time is different, ok? Because the book in question is a sequel, which means you have time to go and read A Stranger in Olondria, and then be ready for Winged Histories in all its glorious glory. In Olondria, Samatar built us a beautiful fantasy world, full of diverse peoples and customs, gorgeous landscapes, and a dark undercurrent. Our guide to Olondria, Jevick, found himself caught up in the midst of a troubled I wouldn’t normally taunt you with a book you can’t have for two months, but this time is different, ok? Because the book in question is a sequel, which means you have time to go and read A Stranger in Olondria, and then be ready for Winged Histories in all its glorious glory. In Olondria, Samatar built us a beautiful fantasy world, full of diverse peoples and customs, gorgeous landscapes, and a dark undercurrent. Our guide to Olondria, Jevick, found himself caught up in the midst of a troubled political situation, in a country on the brink of war. In Winged Histories, we see that war from four perspectives. And, god, what perspectives they are. 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 from The Best Books We Read In January: http://bookriot.com/2016/02/01/riot-r...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brianne Reeves

    So, I liked this, but I think it works best to think of it as intertwined short stories that are companions to A Stranger in Olondria. It expands the world well and adds character, but I think it may struggle on its own without the context of ASO. Full review to follow.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mely

    The Winged Histories is an epic fantasy divided in four sections, each narrated by a different woman: a soldier, a poet, a scholar, a socialite; sometimes they take part of the epic events, the battles and revolutions and displacements, and sometimes they are in the corners or the cracks, making up stories about family histories or fantasies about great heroes because the stories they’re told (if they’re told stories at all) aren’t enough. Usually epic fantasy is epic like The Iliad; arguably A The Winged Histories is an epic fantasy divided in four sections, each narrated by a different woman: a soldier, a poet, a scholar, a socialite; sometimes they take part of the epic events, the battles and revolutions and displacements, and sometimes they are in the corners or the cracks, making up stories about family histories or fantasies about great heroes because the stories they’re told (if they’re told stories at all) aren’t enough. Usually epic fantasy is epic like The Iliad; arguably A Stranger in Olondria is epic like The Odyssey; The Winged Histories is intimate like Ovid. Love is terrible and awful; I mean full of terror and awe. Samatar has described the Olondria books, I think, as talking back to Tolkien (I may be paraphrasing wrong). Here are some things this book says: Epics are about women, brown women, queer brown women, barbarians, dissolute aesthetes, determined soldiers, careless party girls, refugees swept to strange places in wars; there are monsters, but not because races are born that way; revolution will not restore the just order of the past, because there was no perfect order from which we have fallen; there is no single history of the world; if it looks like there is a single history, it’s because priests have erased or overwritten heretical histories, words and languages the powerful don’t want to be passed on. And the prose, of course, is beautiful: sensual, vivid, and precise. From a random page I opened to: Shernai sings. Ta-ta-di-dai-di. It doesn’t make sense. A woman’s song. Just a tongue tapping and a warmth low in the throat. It doesn’t mean anything, and so it’s open, always available, a bucket being filled up at a dark well. Ta-ta-di-dai-di. It tastes like water. Now the wind blows, and Kaili gives a yelp and jumps up to catch the feathers whirling with the sand. She laughs, look, she’s laughing, the feathers in sunlight and I don’t want them to come down, I just want them to stay up in the air.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jacqie

    I really liked "Stranger in Olondria", but I was a bit intimidated by this book and it sat on my shelf for a bit, until I felt ready for it. Because while I enjoyed "Olondria" I wouldn't say it was an easy read. It required concentration, and probably reading it on vacation when I could devote a lot of time to it helped me to digest it better. I believe another review states that "Olondria" is downright linear compared to "Histories" and I would very much agree. I bounced off this book hard. The I really liked "Stranger in Olondria", but I was a bit intimidated by this book and it sat on my shelf for a bit, until I felt ready for it. Because while I enjoyed "Olondria" I wouldn't say it was an easy read. It required concentration, and probably reading it on vacation when I could devote a lot of time to it helped me to digest it better. I believe another review states that "Olondria" is downright linear compared to "Histories" and I would very much agree. I bounced off this book hard. The first part, "The History of the Sword", seems to be about a young aristocratic woman who ran away to join the army. Why? Don't know. What is she like as a soldier? After 50 pages, I really couldn't say. And I couldn't picture her as a soldier at all. Don't know how well she fought or why she was fighting, except it seemed to be in the mountains at some sort of frontier. Or for how long. The book hops back and forth in time until I didn't know whether a recounted conversation with her sister happened before or after she ran away ( or maybe both? it was that kind of book). The prose is dreamlike, poetic, and served to make me feel like I was reading a stylized version of a story instead of the story itself. I hope that makes sense. It removed me from caring. And because I didn't care, and because the book drifted along from past to future to present, and because I felt like I was reading a transcription of a fever dream, I noped out at about 50 pages. I'm given to understand that there are 3 other separate parts to the story, all of which talk around it until they finally make something. I did not have the patience or the fortitude. I may steer clear of this author in the future unless I'm sure that it's worth the effort that these books demand- I was not up to it after all this time around.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen

    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, emotion 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

  21. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    What a challenging, lovely piece of work this book is! I'm flagging it for my queer women protags because two of the female protagonists are a couple, FYI, for those looking for more fantasy w/ queer women as leads and POV. Samatar's prose is gorgeous and her world-building is layers and layers deep (in fact, I'm slightly jealous). The story is about 4 women experiencing different aspects of a civil war; they sing, they remember, they fight, they flee. The way that each describes her experience What a challenging, lovely piece of work this book is! I'm flagging it for my queer women protags because two of the female protagonists are a couple, FYI, for those looking for more fantasy w/ queer women as leads and POV. Samatar's prose is gorgeous and her world-building is layers and layers deep (in fact, I'm slightly jealous). The story is about 4 women experiencing different aspects of a civil war; they sing, they remember, they fight, they flee. The way that each describes her experience rinses can make it challenging for a reader to figure where they are in the timeline, or at least it did for me. And while the glossary helped, I still found myself getting confused re: the secondary characters and various locations and expressions. That said, if you are looking for new and unusual fantasy that centers a perspective that is not based in Europian tradition, this is very much a book for you. I definitely want to read more by this author!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Liv

    This book was a slow burn for me. At times the names, jumps between past and present, and style was a little confusing, especially in the beginning, but the writing was really beautiful and lyrical. This book follows the eruption of war and rebellion from four different female perspectives. I really enjoyed how the story progressed within the changes of perspectives. The reader doesn't experience the pages and pages of bitter battle, but does see the wreckage of the afterwards. Overall a subtle This book was a slow burn for me. At times the names, jumps between past and present, and style was a little confusing, especially in the beginning, but the writing was really beautiful and lyrical. This book follows the eruption of war and rebellion from four different female perspectives. I really enjoyed how the story progressed within the changes of perspectives. The reader doesn't experience the pages and pages of bitter battle, but does see the wreckage of the afterwards. Overall a subtle and beautiful story.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bryn Hammond

    I dream of fantasy like this: intelligent, exploratory, effortlessly inclusive-stroke-diverse -- because not to be is part of the staleness we are tired of in fantasy. Ideas fantasy that is alive with immediacy of story, with exquisite skills in characterisation and in writing. Let her continue to take nine years to write a book (as she says of her two fantasies) and distill her work to this.

  24. 5 out of 5

    James

    My year of disappointing books continues, and what a let-down this was. This is a sequel of sorts to the fantastic "A Stranger In Olondria" that attempts to examine several different aspects of Samatar's fantasy world. One is the conflict between the empire and the land of Kestenya, and the other is the rise and fall of the Cult of the Stone, which suppressed the older religion of the goddess Avalei. Good ideas - terrible execution. There is very little cohesion to this story as Samatar decided My year of disappointing books continues, and what a let-down this was. This is a sequel of sorts to the fantastic "A Stranger In Olondria" that attempts to examine several different aspects of Samatar's fantasy world. One is the conflict between the empire and the land of Kestenya, and the other is the rise and fall of the Cult of the Stone, which suppressed the older religion of the goddess Avalei. Good ideas - terrible execution. There is very little cohesion to this story as Samatar decided to adopt a "dreamlike" narrative style through her characters that mixes memory and flashback with the present - often in the same damn paragraph. You won't know who half the people are that she refers to, or what the relationships are between different parts of the world, or why there is conflict in the first place. The most interesting story is about the priest who founds the Cult of the Stone, but the rest is extremely mediocre. I couldn't finish the final 100 pages because I was so bored, not invested in the characters, and had no real sense of what was going on. I think Samatar wanted this to be a character study about the effects of war and conflict on women, but she forgot that in order for those themes to connect, you have to also create compelling settings and have enough exposition so that the reader can connect with the characters.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Max

    I've been thinking a lot on this book in the few days since I finished it, so here's a quick sort-of review! Basically, I loved this. It was probably a safe bet for me, since the premise is one I'm more or less guaranteed to love - four women on different sides of a violent rebellion, writing their stories and pondering on/trying to make/agonizing about history - but I've been burned before by books I thought were a sure bet so it was an absolute delight to see this wasn't one of those cases. Sof I've been thinking a lot on this book in the few days since I finished it, so here's a quick sort-of review! Basically, I loved this. It was probably a safe bet for me, since the premise is one I'm more or less guaranteed to love - four women on different sides of a violent rebellion, writing their stories and pondering on/trying to make/agonizing about history - but I've been burned before by books I thought were a sure bet so it was an absolute delight to see this wasn't one of those cases. Sofia Samatar's prose is gorgeous, and versatile enough that the four characters' voices were (usually) quite distinct from one another. She has a way of making everything line seem more poignant than the one before it, which is quite a feat. A Stranger in Olondria is on my list now because I want more of those gorgeous sentences. I knocked the book down one star just because at times I found myself wanting to skim a little, but that may have been more down to my frame of mind when I was reading than the book itself; I'll have to reread in the future and re-evaluate my rating. Even now, though, I highly recommend reading this. An action-packed thriller it is not, but I found that the prose and the characters make it all worth it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    This book is a slow start but the momentum builds quickly to a startling and wrenching finish. Sofia Samatar is an AMAZING writer. Like, her prose is gorgeous and will wreck you and create an image that you will be haunted by long after you've put the book down. I think her choice of four female narrators throughout civil unrest was a smart choice, as it demonstrates the effects of war on women civilians. The narrative polyphony is broken up into four books, so you don't have to try and identify This book is a slow start but the momentum builds quickly to a startling and wrenching finish. Sofia Samatar is an AMAZING writer. Like, her prose is gorgeous and will wreck you and create an image that you will be haunted by long after you've put the book down. I think her choice of four female narrators throughout civil unrest was a smart choice, as it demonstrates the effects of war on women civilians. The narrative polyphony is broken up into four books, so you don't have to try and identify which woman is speaking. That said, this novel reminds me a lot of Virginia Woolf's The Waves, which is all about mourning the loss of something or someone. Many thanks to my sister, who gave this a rave review. I think this is a contender for best book I've read this year.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    The Winged Histories is densely layered, overwhelming, and quite beautiful. A series of 4 documents written by characters with differing perspectives on a central conflict, each portion has a unique feel, with the lyric poem portion being a head and shoulders above the rest. The experience of reading the Winged Histories is memorable, but not easy. The book is long, and the prose is thick. There are also complicated family trees to grapple with and the history of the land itself. I don't recomme The Winged Histories is densely layered, overwhelming, and quite beautiful. A series of 4 documents written by characters with differing perspectives on a central conflict, each portion has a unique feel, with the lyric poem portion being a head and shoulders above the rest. The experience of reading the Winged Histories is memorable, but not easy. The book is long, and the prose is thick. There are also complicated family trees to grapple with and the history of the land itself. I don't recommend trying to keep any of these straight, but rather proceed through and just be immersed in the atmosphere. The Winged Histories is excellent, but prepare yourself for a rigorous and scenic hike.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Darnell

    I guess I won't rate this one, but I didn't enjoy it. This is the type of book where characters turn toward the camera and solemnly intone thesis statements. Once you adjust to the nonlinear elements, it's as subtle as an anvil to the face. I guess I won't rate this one, but I didn't enjoy it. This is the type of book where characters turn toward the camera and solemnly intone thesis statements. Once you adjust to the nonlinear elements, it's as subtle as an anvil to the face.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Gin Jenny (Reading the End)

    I think I must accept that Sofia Samatar is not for me! Her writing is lovely, but I need things to be a bit faster-paced than this. ALAS.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sienna

    Give me your hand. 4.5/5 stars and my heart white with love, good gods. A breathtakingly-written quartet of stories that is also one story. Sofia Samatar's language always leaves me floating on another plane for days after I finish a piece of hers, and this volume is no different. The musicality, the rhythm, the poetry. It's a cadential banquet. I'm hard-pressed to pick a favourite out of the four women and their stories, their struggles and triumphs. The History of the Stone hit me hard as someone Give me your hand. 4.5/5 stars and my heart white with love, good gods. A breathtakingly-written quartet of stories that is also one story. Sofia Samatar's language always leaves me floating on another plane for days after I finish a piece of hers, and this volume is no different. The musicality, the rhythm, the poetry. It's a cadential banquet. I'm hard-pressed to pick a favourite out of the four women and their stories, their struggles and triumphs. The History of the Stone hit me hard as someone who read and adored Stranger in Olondria, the other novel set in this world, but The History of Music made me lay my head down on my couch and weep. They are each to be held and cherished, in any case. Beyond these protagonists, the larger history of Olondria itself is revealed over time in a way that culminated in an utterly delicious, page-turning end. Samatar's worldbuilding, from the food to the language to the seemingly endless and beautiful snippets of Olondrian song, is so superb it's intimidating. Also: IT'S QUEER. I had no idea going in, and it was such a gleeful realization. To exist in these pages is a gift. In short, some people balk at the lush density of Samatar's writing, but like with Stranger in Olondria, I can't recommend it highly enough. Get someone to read it to you, if you have to. It's a treat for the ear, and a balm for the soul, all in one.

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