Windhaven by George R R Martin and Lisa Tuttle

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Windhaven by George R R Martin and Lisa Tuttle

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Stephen Leach
Reviewed by Stephen Leach
Summary: A standalone fantasy novel. Teenage readers might find it a little lacking on the action scenes, but it's a great read nonetheless.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: February 2015
Publisher: Bantam
ISBN: 9781473208940

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As a huge fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, I love George RR Martin’s writing style and the vivid world and characters he created, and was interested to see what his other work might be like. Conversely, not being at all familiar with Lisa Tuttle, I was even more intrigued to read this book.

Perhaps because of my unfamiliarity with Tuttle, I found it hard to distinguish between the two. It didn’t seem that they’d alternated writing chunks of the story, as some co-authors do: I recognised touches of Martin’s writing style here and there, but the narrative didn’t feel disjointed or choppy. I’d be interested to read some of Tuttle’s individual work to compare.

Regardless, Windhaven is beautifully written. The language is evocative and doesn’t spare you any detail: at times it’s almost lyrical, particularly in the flying sequences. These were the part of the book I most enjoyed, and without them the book wouldn’t have worked at all. Nothing was left to the imagination. Maris and the other flyers’ travels across the ocean from island to island were superbly described: the imagery of crashing waves and freezing thunderstorms was vivid enough to make me shiver. The flight mechanism used in the story was so well-realised I could easily imagine myself flying on a pair of metallic wings – I had a perfect picture of what they should look like in my head.

You can definitely see some of the early ideas of ASOIAF in this book: particularly in the bleak, harsh way that life in a quasi-medieval world is portrayed. The relatively easy life of a flyer is contrasted well with the harshness of life on the ground, and it’s easy to sympathise with the various characters who want to have a chance to fly. Ultimately it’s Maris’s desire to be one of them that sets the plot in motion, and this is a very character-driven story, with some really strong characters to match.

I felt that Maris was a great protagonist. Her single-mindedness and utter devotion to flying made her feel a little bland at times, but her struggle to be accepted by the flyers at the start of the book gets the reader onside. It’s made clear that the flyer culture is somewhat elitist and slightly staid, and the book spends a lot of time pondering the fairness and sensibility of an inheritance-based system for those lucky enough to wear wings. This theme is laboured quite heavily but I feel it was undermined somewhat by the way it’s fairly quickly swept aside, as most of the characters seem to recognise that the current system is flawed and quickly see the sense in changing it. After that the notion of traditionalism never poses a serious problem for Maris. Had there been more conflict with some of the old guard and a proper sense of struggle, it would have felt more justified.

Val was my favourite character: he was snarky and rude, emotionally closed off, but oddly compelling, and I felt his story explored the struggle against flyer culture better than Maris’s did. I didn’t feel like he even needed the backstory that justified him: his character worked without it, and I liked the way his story ended.

A few threads of the story had shades of untapped potential. As the plot develops there’s rumblings about war between the islands, but none of the dispute is ever seen first-hand. I felt Val and S’Rella were the most interesting characters, and a connection between the two – possibly romantic, possibly not – is hinted but sadly never expanded on. There’s a few loose ends, too: I expected Dorrel to play a larger part in the climax of the story, but he ended up being a bit of a spare part. At times I felt as though too much of the story was in the author’s heads and not making it to the page. But despite this, for all that it tells a great story, Windhaven actually feels pretty bloated. I guess the general problem I’m getting at here was that I found the plot to be too slow. I felt it only really accelerated right at the end of the book and there was too much unneeded setup.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book. The way the world was crafted was second to none: I liked the subtle way that they mixed a little sci-fi into the fantasy element, and the constant realism. This is definitely worth a read. If you like A Song of Ice and Fire and want to see what GRRM’s other work is like, or if you simply enjoy fantasy, this is one for you.

Thanks to the publishers for supplying this book.

Outside of recommending A Song of Ice and Fire (again!), I’d recommend The Princess Bride by William Goldman if you're in the mood for more fantasy. It's more comedic in tone but a great read nonetheless, and has its darker moments.

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