Sunday, August 05, 2001

Review: "Windhaven" by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle

During the last few years, George R.R. Martin has become one of the most recognized names in fantasy with his "Song of Ice and Fire" series, which has garnered several awards and a spot on the best seller list. Lisa Tuttle's most recent novel, "The Pillow Friend," won some of the top honors in the speculative genres - including the Locus Poll Award and the Bram Stoker Award.

But both writers have been around - and winning awards - for quite a while. Back in 1981, the duo teamed up for a novel called "Windhaven." For the book's 20th anniversary, Bantam Spectra has re-released it in a new hardcover edition.

Windhaven is a world of islands, wracked by violent storms which make ocean travel dangerous and at times impossible. The star sailors, who originally colonized the world, brought with them a metal cloth that they learned how to fashion into wings that allowed them to ride the storm's fierce winds.

Since that time, the flyers have become revered members of society, a caste the equal of the ruling Landsmen and far above the land-bound. Tradition dictates that the wings be passed down to a flyer's firstborn child when that child comes of age.

That's all about to change, though. Maris of Lesser Amberly is a land-bound child that dreams of the skies. She's adopted by the flyer Russ and trained to soar on the winds. But then her adoptive father has a son. By tradition, the wings must go to that son, but Maris' step-brother Coll has no desire to fly. Together, they challenge the age-old customs of flyer society and win. But that's where the real problems begin.

Fans of Martin who are expecting something like "Song of Ice and Fire" will be disappointed. It was written long before the current series and at a time when his focus was on science fiction rather than fantasy. On the other hand, fans who approach it with an open mind will find a lot to like.

The most intriguing aspect of "Windhaven" is the layout of the book. At first, I was a little disappointed that what I expected to be the main conflicts - the challenging of tradition and the struggle for acceptance - were seemingly resolved early in the book. But, like Maris, this novel also challenges traditional ideas.

Rather than one continuous story with a beginning, middle and end, "Windhaven" is more like a collection of short stories that reflect the pivotal moments in the life of someone who has had a great impact on her society. At first it may seem a little disjointed and choppy, but viewed as a collection of scenes, it becomes a powerful tale of change and the consequences of that change.

Some online fans of Martin have been critical of the book because it's unlike his more recent work. I disagree. There are numerous similarities between this book and his newer works, especially in the characters. Maris is a great deal like Arya in her strength and determination, and I have to believe that perhaps Val One-Wing was a forerunner to the Imp - a character who is exceptionally unlikeable - but somehow the reader ends up pulling for him.

If you can approach this book without preconceived notions of what it should be like, it will make an enjoyable interlude during the wait for the next volume of "Song of Ice and Fire."

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