Windhaven (1981) by George R. R. Martin & Lisa Tuttle

This novel co-written by George R. R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle (former lovers, though that hadn’t been the case for around seven years before this novel’s publication) has a very fascinating setting, but not much of a great story within it. It’s certainly not a bad story, and it has the same “fantasy convention subversion” element that many love about “A Song of Ice and Fire”, but it is nowhere near as compelling as that series.

The novel is very singularly focused; there’s not much in the way of subplots or well-sketched side characters here. Structurally, it timeskips ahead a number of years four times, with the novel split up into a prologue, three sections comprising the novel proper, then an epilogue. It follows the protagonist, Maris, as she both tries to enact political and societal change, then deal with the fallout over the decades.

The world of “Windhaven” is one of small rocky islands beset by harsh winds and seas. To get around, “flyers” use mechanical wings made from the material of the crashes spaceships their ancestors used to get to the planet. The mixing of science-fiction and fantasy is done well, better than Martin’s earlier attempts like “Bitterblooms”, and the worldbuilding and lore really is well-done. The politics of the planet isn’t exactly uninteresting, it’s just that so few of the characters involved are compelling, so it’s hard to really engage with it.

The novel makes some good points regarding privilege, class conflict, revolutions, ageing, how change and upheaval functions in a society, past loves, and so on. A lot of Martin’s pet topics, although you can certainly feel a separate voice to him as well, Tuttle’s, especially in the prose.

Standalone fantasy novels are a rare breed now, so it’s nice to dive back and read a tale entirely unconcerned with anything beyond telling a good story. It’s just a shame the story wasn’t any better. Still, certainly worth the read if the premise or worldbuilding sounds enticing. I give it three wings, and a solar sail.

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