Monday, May 21, 2012

Harpy's Flight - Megan Lindholm

Harpy's Flight (1983) is Megan Lindholm's first novel and the first of a series of four starring the characters Ki and Vandien. I understand that at one time, Lindholm had plans to write more but that never happened. Given the success of Lindholm's other pen name Robin Hobb, I very much doubt it ever will. Although not quite as popular as the Hobb novels, most of the Lindholm books are still available. The only one I haven't been able to get my hands on yet is Cloven Hooves (1991). The Ki and Vandien books have recently been translated into Dutch. Not entirely sure how well they did but I thought it was interesting to see the publisher gamble like that. Lindholm novels are very different in style and tone from Hobb novels. I love both the epic fantasy of Hobb and the more diverse output of Lindholm but that is certainly not true for all readers.

Ki is out for revenge. A pair of Harpies have taken her husband and two young children and despite the fact that they can easily take her as well, she is determined to make them feel her loss. Against all odds, Ki survives the climb to the Hapries' lair and the ensuing fight. She is left to pick up the pieces of her life but with one Harpy dead, three eggs ruined and a second Harpy mutilated, her actions are bound to come back to her. Ki has made enemies. Just how far reaching the consequences are, becomes clear when she visits the family of her late husband Sven to share the horrific news with them.

The opening scene of this novel is an extremely powerful one. Lindholm tosses the reader right into the mids of the whirlwind of emotions that is Ki. Grief, pain and vengefulness just leap off the pages and setting the tone for the rest of the novel. Lindholm's writing my be different from Hobb's but there is one thing they share. They make their characters suffer. This is a reread for me, I read this novel for the first time in 2002, and ten years on, it surprised me how tragic the story really is. Ki is battered and bruised, tired and above all empty. Revenge, after all, will not bring back the ones she loved.

Lindholm tells her story out of chronological order. She opens with the earliest part of the story but after that, it mostly Ki thinking back on events after her encounter with the Harpies while struggling to put her life back together. In these flashbacks, a story that started out as revenge and a hunt, becomes one of a major clash of cultural differences. Ki's origins remain partly unexplored in this novel, but she grew up among the Romni, a Gipsy-like people. Her husband stems from a farming community with much closer ties to the land they work and very different rituals regarding death and the loss of loved ones.

In this first novel the world Ki lives in is not fleshed out yet. Lindholm hints at the many sentient races that inhabit the world but only Humans and Harpies are important to this story. Two other races make a brief appearance. The interactions between all these races is important to the series though. In this first volume the dubious relationship between the predatory Harpies and the Human farmers that worship them takes center stage and adds another dark tone to what is already a quite depressing story. The tensions created by Ki's arrival in the farming community are what really drew me in though. Revenge alone, would not have been enough to carry the story.

I haven't mentioned Vandien thus far and although the series is named after him, Ki is the main character in this story. Vandien has a history of his own, some of which is revealed in this novel, but mostly he is there to make Ki think about things she would rather avoid. More than once he goads her into revealing things about herself she would rather not discuss. He makes her reconsider the course of her life and as far as Ki is concerned, this is a mixed blessing. It is the beginning of a complicated relationship between them. I guess that is another thing that Hobb and Lindholm have in common. The characterization is always impressive.

In some ways you can tell this novel is an early work. Lindholm switched quite abruptly between the present of the story and a flashback or dream (or both). The novel clearly lacks a bit of refinement there. I also thought the way Lindholm presents the individual members of Sven's family is a bit confusing at times. Most of these people have some part to play in the tragedy that unfolds there but some appear pretty much without introduction or just the barest hint of one. It is not bad enough to really distract from the story but there is certainly a bit of room for improvement there. If I remember correctly, Lindholm does just that in the later parts of this series.

Harpy's Flight is not Lindholm's best novel but it is still an impressive read. The emptiness Ki experiences after the loss of her family and the violence she unleashes on their killers is heartbreaking. Whatever the technical flaws of this novel, on an emotional level is works very well. It is very clear that there is a lot more to discover about this world in the later three volumes. I think I saw a few more imperfections in the novel the second time around but I am still glad to have my copy of the second volume, The Windsingers, on hand.

Book Details
Title: Harpy's Flight
Author: Megan Lindholm
Publisher: Voyager
Pages: 312
Year: 2002
Language: English
Format: Mass Market paperback
ISBN: 0-00-711252-1
First published: 1983

No comments:

Post a Comment