Reading The Winged Histories felt like trying to hold onto smoke. It’s the kind of novel that requires your full attention, one that never compromises for a moment in its journey to being the most lyrical headache the reader will ever have the luck to witness.
The Winged Histories is a book about time, and who gets to make history. To say this feels reductive, because it’s so much more, and there’s no way I’ll ever do it justice. It’s about which viewpoints are lost, about what people remember, about which stories we decide to pass down to the next generations, and the all-encompassing nature of time, the way it erodes everything.
The writing reflects this. It mimics the momentary nature of memory; it doesn’t so much have time jumps as it has details and scenes sliding in and out of focus in an ever-changing kaleidoscope.
(Like those, it has a tendency to make me dizzy. If you want to talk about this in terms of time jumps, there’s about one for paragraph, and it’s dreamlike also in the sense that a lot of it isn’t actually reliable.)
And it only makes sense for a book about the influence of time to get rid of it entirely in the narration. I felt like the last chapter was as much of a conclusion as it was an explanation for this very peculiar choice. I don’t think it could have been written in any other way.
This book is divided into four parts. I admit I struggled a lot with The History of the Stone – it needed to be there for the story to work, but also, I didn’t care about the character this revolved around – and fell in love with The History of Music. There’s a lot of music, a lot of poetry in these pages; it has always been one of the most important forms of storytelling for humans, after all. The History of Music is about songs and feels like one in itself, and in the way it talks about them, it focuses on a specific question about history – which stories are considered great? Which ones do we choose to tell? I feel like it’s relevant to the fantasy genre as it is now, because it doesn’t escape me how stories are still given more relevance if they’re about death and gloss over the happiness, deeming it unimportant, frivolous, boring – just to get to the action, the fighting, the suffering. Something I’ve always thought is that suffering is easy. Fighting is easy. Talking about it might not be, but getting there is.
I really don’t think it’s a case that this book doesn’t even glance as something as easy as fight scenes during a revolution, and that its deepest, most beautiful, most emotional part is the one set after.
There’s political intrigue; there’s war. None of it is really the point.
The History of Music is also one of the two parts focusing on the two main queer women, Seren (the narrator in this part) and Tav. Tav gets her own part at the beginning, in The History of the Sword, which talks about the erasure of the achievements of women. As I am predictable, these parts ended up being my favorite ones. We see Seren and Tav’s relationship in flashes; it feels more real than many we follow step for step.
I loved this, and yet I didn’t. It’s dreamlike in a way that keeps evading me, and I feel like I need stories to be more tethered to enjoy them fully. This is not an actual criticism of the book; I don’t think I’d change anything about it (maybe a more comprehensive glossary?). I also probably shouldn’t have reached for it while preparing for one of the most difficult exams in my course.
My rating: ★★★★
Content warnings: abusive family, references to addiction, incest between first cousins.