Maris is a bit of an unassuming character from the start. Though she was a perpetual dreamer, I wasn't too sure about her until I neared the end of the book. What she does have in spades is determination- enough that even when faced with unlikely odds she perseveres.
The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'The planet of Windhaven was not originally a home to humans, but it became one following the crash of a colony starship. It is a world of small islands, harsh weather, and monster-infested seas. Communication among the scattered settlements was virtually impossible until the discovery that, thanks to light gravity and a dense atmosphere, humans were able to fly with the aid of metal wings made of bits of the cannibalized spaceship.
'Many generations later, among the scattered islands that make up the water world of Windhaven, no one holds more prestige than the silver-winged flyers, who bring news, gossip, songs, and stories. They are romantic figures crossing treacherous oceans, braving shifting winds and sudden storms that could easily dash them from the sky to instant death. They are also members of an increasingly elite caste, for the wings—always in limited quantity—are growing gradually rarer as their bearers perish.
'With such elitism comes arrogance and a rigid adherence to hidebound tradition. And for the flyers, allowing just anyone to join their cadre is an idea that borders on heresy. Wings are meant only for the offspring of flyers—now the new nobility of Windhaven. Except that sometimes life is not quite so neat.
'Maris of Amberly, a fisherman's daughter, was raised by a flyer and wants nothing more than to soar on the currents high above Windhaven. By tradition, however, the wings must go to her stepbrother, Coll, the flyer's legitimate son. But Coll wants only to be a singer, traveling the world by sea. So Maris challenges tradition, demanding that flyers be chosen on the basis of merit rather than inheritance. And when she wins that bitter battle, she discovers that her troubles are only beginning.
'For not all flyers are willing to accept the world's new structure, and as Maris battles to teach those who yearn to fly, she finds herself likewise fighting to preserve the integrity of a society she so longed to join—not to mention the very fabric that holds her culture together.'
I think half of what makes this book interesting is the social hierarchy and interactions between people- flyers and those who are land bound, along with the Landsmen, who rule the land bound people of their island. I almost wished you got to see more of what the different islands were like- the worldbuilding in this book is anything but lacking, and yet I wanted more. Much of the plot involves the politics of Windhaven, so I don't want to reveal too much for fear of spoilers.
Though the story is science fiction in the way the world came about, it has a distinctive fantasy feel that a lot of "stranded on a planet" books seem to pick up. It's not a bad thing for someone like me who enjoys both genres equally, but if you're expecting pure science fiction you'll be disappointed. Most of the time Windhaven sort of reminds me of The Name of the Wind's world- singers/musicians hold a lot of power.
Windhaven may remind me of other books, but I found the concept of human flight to be relatively unique to its world. There's something inherently thrilling about the idea of strapping a pair of wings on and gliding off into the sunset, at least for me, so this book was definitely in my daydreams before I even read it. If you aren't too afraid of heights and enjoy science fiction that may end up more on the fantasy spectrum, Windhaven might be the book for you.
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent novel that set my mind adrift.
Age Advisory: Ages 16+ for disturbing politics and violence.
Page Count: 400 pages in my mass market paperback edition