The Winged Histories
by Sofia Samatar
Format: Hardcover, 337 pages
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Cover Art: Kathleen Jennings
Release Date: March 16, 2016
"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.