Reading: Sofia Samatar — The Winged Histories

Not keeping up with my reading here. I read Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories a couple of weeks ago. I’d seen her name around the last years for her A Stranger in Olondria which was getting well raved about. I hadn’t gotten around to reading that one before The Winged Histories came out, and being on my reading wish list as it was, plus me flush with bookshop credit, I went for this one first.

It’s super nice. I could say Samatar writes like a poet, but poetry’s poetry and novels are novels (even though she’s also a poet and has a Ph.D in literature). It’s poetic like a dream is, in the wash of language, and like a dream it’s unclear what is happening (if you’ve read Joyce’s Ulysses, I mean it like that). If you’re looking for didactic expositions, this isn’t the book, but if stories that seem to resolve themselves only in retrospect, as a feeling, are your thing, well, I’ve got A Stranger in Orlando on order, so that’s my answer as to how much I liked this. Pretty high on my Book of the Year list.

Even though I hated the second quarter.

Because I loved the first. I could have spent an entire novel or series of novels with Tav. She reminds me somewhat of Ysabeau S. Wilce’s Flora Segunda, or of some of Iain Banks’ (I can always find a way back to him if I like a work), like Against a Dark Background. It’s a story of war, of colonialism, of the few at the top making decisions that destroy the lives of the many, of family and the selfishness of family obligations, though this is seldom stated explicitly. The story itself, civil war and fighting for self-determination (even if that self is only nominally of the ones making the call to battle), sits over the narrative like a storm on the horizon, while most of the action for the four women whose stories make up the four parts is mundane or fragments of their shared history. And there isn’t a resolution, a proper finish; it’s a moment in time towards the end of the great events from which these histories take on a particular timbre.

I really liked this book. Samatar makes up one of a strange group of sci-fi/fantasy writers for me at the moment, along with Ann Leckie, Ysabeau S. Wilce whose imagination of worlds draws me in. There’s other authors, like Jo Walton or Nicola Griffith some of whose works have a similar deep effect on me, but I’m grouping these three together because I could imagine reading them all at once and there’d be a sympathy between each. Highly deserving of a re-read.