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Book review: Windhaven by George R.R Martin and Lisa Tuttle

I read this novel last year. Those of you that are regular readers of my other blog might remember that I mentioned it a couple of times, for example here. I reviewed Windhaven on goodreads some time ago. Nevetheless, I feel like I have only read it yesterday. Everything I think about this novel, I feel that way. It stayed with me, became a part of me somehow. That is the best recommendation I can give to any novel.

Maris has got to be one of the most amazing female protagonists in the history of this genre. She is certainly what I think about when I think about a strong female lead. Her personal development during the course of this novel is nothing short of pure perfection. I mean Maris is an awe-inspiring woman and yet she feels very real during every step of the way. She is wonderfully written and totally convincing. She starts off as a young lady that is determined to change the world she lives in (and what a world it is!) and she actually does it. 


Without revealing what happens next (and next and next) and what kind of person she becomes; I’m just going to say that the way she is written is outstanding. Flawless characterization that feels absolutely convincing during all stages of her life. 

If you are looking for a novel that examines the very soul of its protagonist, look no further. If you want to read a novel with a strong female lead, this is a story for you. If you want to read about an imaginary world that is endlessly fascinating once you dig under its simple surface, get this book. If you are interested in reading an exciting story filled with multidimensional characters, what are you waiting for? If you also happen to like fantasy, well you just hit jackpot!

Fantasy lovers open your heart for another jewel, for Windhaven is a beautifully crafted world. Can I call it poetic? Would that be too much? It is not a world of ice and fire, but a world of sea and wind. What if I told you that while you are reading it you can smell the sea in the air and sense the wind on your face. Not just any sea or any wind…but the wind and the sea of this magical place. If you’re imagining Hawaii, think again.

Windhaven is no paradise. It consists of islands that would be in a state of total isolation if there weren’t for fliers. Fliers are only able to fly thanks to two facts and one of them is that this world is in a state of permanent storm. Extemely windy. It is not a paradise, but a hard planet (and place) to live on. Yet I had this feeling of being able to sense its brutal beauty in my bones. It is so well described, the ecology of the planet and the way it influenced the human society living there.

Isolation makes fliers almost mythical creatures. Their wings are made from materials saved from the mother ship (the only sf element in the novel) and they exist in limited numbers. Moreover, with every accident, with every flier who is lost, there is one less pair of wings. Can you imagine why having a pair of wings would be something that is to be desired, not only for its social significance?




“It was the feel of it, the love of it, not the thought: it was instinct and reflex and knowing the wind, and Maris was the wind.” 
― George R.R. Martin and Lisa TuttleWindhaven

The joy of flying! Was there ever a novel that describes so well the sheer join of flying! Let’s get back to the start of this novel and our lovely protagonist. Maris is a natural born flier. She is marvellously talented at it and she knows it. All that Maris wants to do is fly. She was adopted and raised by a flier and he taught her all she needs to know about flying. However, there is a catch. Her father meant for her to inherit his wings, but in the meantime he had a son and now legally speaking, his son must inherit his wings. The problem? The boy is terrified of flying. What is left to our Maris but to challenge the system?

Now, if that sounds like a start of a good YA, you’re right…. kind of. For this novel is much more than just a story of growing up in some (how well developed it may be) fantasy world. The society is not just some background for our protagonist to shine in, nor are the conflicts only there for the action aspect of the story (which is pretty good but that’s beside the point now). This novel is also about politics, power and government. This is a novel that shows us how complex life is. 

I think we can draw parallels between the society in Windhaven and our own despite the fact that the society described there lacks any technology and is basically medieval. For aren’t the games of power something that is in its essence timeless? Speaking of humans and our need to organize ourselves in groups, our need to fight for power over one another is something that is explored well in this novel. 

Windhaven has a lesson or two to teach. For example, how revolutions often eat their own childre or how we must always pay the price for the decisions we make. It is actually a well-rounded epic story. A whole lot happens in this novel. It is not terribly long, but it is packed with events. It is an entertaining read for sure, but also so much more.


I would recommend this novel to:

- anyone who has read and liked Machiavelli’s The Prince (because among other things this novel is about power and government)
- fans of Lisa and fans of Martin (because they wrote it, though!)
-pilots (because they would understand why life without flying is not worth much)
- mountaineers and outdoorsy types (because they will appreciate the amazing nature descriptions)
-fantasy lovers (because it is a fantasy worth reading)
- literature lovers (because this is real literature)
- just about anyone (because it is an awesome read any way you take it)

I praised our protagonist, but she is hardly the only memorable character. I know that many fans of Martin will wonder if this is something that can be compared with his legendary series. It is. However, don’t read this expecting another GOT sequel for this is a world of its own. Windhaven is written by Lisa as well and that can be felt. I personally loved that! I think these two worked really well together. I liked the focus on one protagonist and I happen to think it was a good decision for this novel. One thing I did notice that seems to be typical of GOT is the depth of characterization. You really have a feeling of getting inside of a character’s head, of exploring their psychological states. Martin’s talent for creating credible characters certainly shines through. 


Nevertheless, there was something uniquely touching about Maris, especially when she got older, something that felt personal, something that made her special. In that sense that is focused merely this novel is different from GOT. I must also add; the descriptions of Windhaven are something I sign off to Lisa. I may be wrong, I cannot say who wrote which part, but I can say that I sensed both of them, not in the sense that you can feel divisions in the text (far from it) but more in a sense there was that something that wasn’t there when I was reading only Martin. Does that make sense? I haven’t read any of Lisa’s works but I can sense her there and I have a feeling this world is a product of her imagination.

This story takes many twists and turns, develops in many different ways and it goes on to explore the world of politics, the conflict between the individual and the society, the dimensions of good and evil, the price we may for our decisions, the negative sides of any revolution etc. It is an amazing story on its own but the fact that the characters are masterfully portrayed is what makes it is very special. Did I mention that it also contains some interesting debates and moral dilemmas i.e. plenty of food for the thought? To conclude, this is a great fantasty novel. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, it would go something like this: Incredibly convincing, outlandishly brave and uncannily wise portrayal of an amazing life of one phenomenal woman.

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