Book Review: Getaways Far, Far Away

Summer reading recommendations that will take you out of this world

Getaways Far, Far Away

Experiencing this novel takes patience, but both the journey and destination are well worth the effort. Sofia Samatar, accomplished in poetry, essay, and short and long fiction, employs many forms to weave her tale of the Kestenyan war in her expertly crafted world of Olondria, first introduced in the award-winning A Stranger in Olondria. The perspectives of four women layer the reader's view of Olondria and explore themes of law, chaos, religion, family, romance, and social structure during a time of rebellion. The pen wields as sharp an edge as the sword, and Samatar's "soldier, scholar, poet, and socialite" are intensely complex and beautifully human.

Although war is at her novel's core, Samatar focuses more on culture and character development than bloody bludgeoning – though it's certainly not without screams or tears. Perhaps it's because I first stamped my passport to Olondria with this second novel, but I sputtered and struggled during the first several pages. Beginning with a queer soldier's nonlinear wartime recollections, the narrative is far from straightforward. As I gained my footing, it occurred to me that nothing in the next 300-plus pages would be predictable, and that alone propelled me. Tav joins the rebels and fights during the uprising; Tialon is a shy intellectual who questions her holy-rolling father, the city, and the homogenized religion; Seren sings tribal history but seeks a new verse; Siski is a refugee in many senses. Sword, Stone, Song, Sacrifice.

The lush syntax is often so spellbinding that entire paragraphs demand an immediate re-read, and the plot map follows tributaries as often as the river itself. Rhythmically, it varies between traditional fantasy fiction and a sort of poetic prose. Samatar's women are realistically flawed, and the storylines have intentionally frayed edges and visible brutalities and, of course, monsters and magic. Based on just a first read of this lyrical work, Samatar's fascination with language and the human condition is very apparent, and perhaps even contagious. Excerpts of in-world books and songs, plus an intricate family tree and glossary, help transform this fantasy into a world so real that when the book ends, Olondria becomes a red balloon, ever-present but just out of reach. For every moment of power and adrenaline, an equally crushing or lovely or strange occurrence is offered. But then, such is war, and life.

The Winged Histories

by Sofia Samatar
Small Beer Press, 337 pp., $24
  • Getaways Far, Far Away

    Summer reading recommendations that will take you out of this world
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    Arabella of Mars

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    Arcadia: A Novel

    Four protagonists move through our world, imaginary worlds, and time in Iain Pears' sumptuous tangle of a book

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Summer Reading, Sofia Samatar, science fiction / fantasy, Summer Reading 2016

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