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An early 1980s collaboration between a now-famous author and a less famous one, Windhaven demonstrates that the young George R.R. Martin had talent for world-building and character-driven storytelling. While not as sprawling and a whole lot less violent than A Game of Thrones, it’ll probably appeal to anyone who liked his more family-friendly Hedge Knight novella.
The story takes place on a distant, windswept ocean world, where humans lost advanced technology generations ago, but were able to cannibalize their wrecked starship and build muscle-and-wind-powered wings to carry messengers over the dangerous seas between far-flung islands. Over time, a caste system has evolved in which wings are passed down by inheritance, with most people excluded from the chance to fly and be a citizen of the world. However, that changes when a young woman named Maris challenges tradition and brings about an opening of the system. From there, the plot, which takes snapshots of Maris’s life over the next few decades, shows how change often brings complications.
The writing isn’t too sophisticated, but I thought Windhaven worked well on the level of a Young Adult fantasy novel, conveying the thrill of flying and a poignant sense of having a privilege that’s hard to bear losing. What I really enjoyed though, was the nuance that the authors put into the story’s evolution. At each stage of her life, Maris finds her idealism echoed by younger people, who push things a bit further and bring about new shakeups in the political order of the world, not always with desirable consequences. The characters aren’t complex, but their varied perspectives are each given a fair hearing. Not surprisingly, there’s a quiet play on the Icarus myth that runs through the story, touching on its different chords.
All in all, a well-constructed, bittersweet minor gem of a novel, and I’m glad someone saw fit to bring it out of the vault and produce an audio version. Its drama is simpler and more reflective than that of A Game of Thrones, but it’s an early highlight in Martin’s career, written along with a friend (I’m not so familiar with Lisa Tuttle’s work). And, unlike the aforementioned series, you can actually finish reading it! The audiobook narrator does a fine job, representing different characters with distinct accents.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
The book was written in three parts, each part reading like a short story with its own beginning and climax.
I liked the concept of the flyers and it was entertaining, though some of the characters were a bit flat.
My main problem was that the middle of the book seemed to be missing.
Part One: An introduction to Maris - becoming a flyer.
Part Two: An introduction to Val - he becomes a flyer.
Part Three: Maris is old and retires.
Wait a minute... shouldn't there be some story about Maris actually BEING a flyer? There was foreshadowing of other cultures as well as introductions to some interesting characters and situations that were completely dropped.
I wanted to know about the culture in the north where the flyers were kings, or the culture where they worshipped a winged god. I wanted to see the aftermath of Maris bucking the system to help Val get his wings. I wanted to know what happened to her brother.
The lack of these things left me sorely disappointed. I was given only Maris' regrets about all the places she had been and the people she had met (some of whom were mentioned ONLY in narration as Maris is lamenting the loss of her wings). I was hungry for so much more than I was given, and this is why I didn't give this book a better rating.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful