It's never the whole story.
in Sofia Samatar's The Winged Histories, four women, all connected by family, love, or history, are caught up on different sides of another one of the recent wars in a land growing disturbingly used to them. Tav is a swordsmaiden, a young woman from an aristocratic bloodline who ran away to join the army and to fight, to be a leader for the other, oppressed side. Hers is the first part, the first encounter with this (hi)story.
But it’s not the whole story.
Hers is followed by that of a woman on the other side, a woman who desperately tries to tell her (hi)story and put to paper the tale of her father, a religious leader who fell to a war that is more religious than political. In telling her father’s tale, she writes her own.
But that’s not all—the story is still not complete.
There is the tale of Seren, Tav’s lover. Her story is song and poem and witnessing. Her (hi)story is about race, economics, culture—it’s about oppression, silence, obedience and song and freedom, rebellion and survival.
The story doesn’t end here though.
It’s never the whole history either.
But it progresses with the last tale. Siski is Tav’s sister and everything we know of her before is recounted and reinterpreted. Her story is mythos, love, tragedy, and hope. It’s the moment where everything comes together. It goes forward but also back because history and story are not one simple linear item that can be pinned down by one narrator, one narrative, one viewpoint—or a book, a story, or even an official historical account. Who gets to tell your story—how and when—matters.
Sofia Samatar takes us back to Olondria to visit at a fractured time in a splintered historical moment for a nation and asks us to witness the lives of four women. With fragmented narratives and viewpoints that are beautifully written, brilliantly interwoven into one another, The Winged Histories is wondrous in its detailed portrayal of a world. But where it truly shines is in its characters—all four of them—and their arcs and stories.
The Winged Histories is a companion novel to A Stranger in Olondria, a book that I appreciated but did not love. I’m glad I came back to Olondria to witness these women, to fall in love with them, root for them, and wish for their survival. The vastness of what has been accomplished within these pages is witness itself to Samatar’s talent as a writer. Especially how The Winged Histories could be described as a hopeful and beautiful story of tragedy and war.
But it’s still not the whole (hi)story.
In Book Smugglerish: 8 out of 10.