The Winged Histories

Sofia Samatar  - published March 2016

March 15, 2016 · trade cloth · 337 pages · $24 · 9781618731142 | ebook · 9781618731159
April 11, 2017 · trade paperback · 337 pages · $16 · 9781618731371

Best Books of the year: NPR
Locus Award finalist
Rights sold: Poland (MAG); India (Juggernaut Books); and Japan (Tokyo Sogensha).

NPR, Your 50 Favorite Sci-Fi And Fantasy Books Of The Past Decade: The Olondria Series

“‘Have you ever seen something so beautiful that you’d be content to just sit and watch the light around it change for a whole day because every passing moment reveals even more unbearable loveliness and transforms you in ways you can’t articulate?’ asks judge Amal El-Mohtar. ‘You will if you read these books.'”

Using the sword, pen, body, and voice, four women confront a rebellion and the older, stranger threat behind it.

Four women—a soldier, a scholar, a poet, and a socialite—are caught up on opposing sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their loyalties and agendas and ideologies come into conflict, the four fear their lives may pass unrecorded. Using the sword and the pen, the body and the voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history.

Here is the much-anticipated companion novel to Sofia Samatar’s World Fantasy Award-winning debut, A Stranger in Olondria. The Winged Histories is the saga of an empire—and a family: their friendships, their enduring love, their arcane and deadly secrets. Samatar asks who makes history, who endures it, and how the turbulence of historical change sweeps over every aspect of a life and over everyone, no matter whether or not they choose to seek it out.


David Naimon and Sofia Samatar chat about The Winged Histories on the Between the Covers podcast.
“Why Read Fantasy?” interview on Bookslinger by Cassidy Foust
Los Angeles Times
interview by Lilliam Rivera.
Mahvesh Murad interviews Sofia for the Midnight in Karachi podcast.
Weird Sister interview by Katie Heng.
Podcast interview: SF Signal.


On the 13 Words That Made Me a Writer” on LitHub.
Kirkus Feature, “Who Tells Your Story” by Ana Grilo: “A hopeful and beautiful story of tragedy and war.”
Read the first chapter on
28 Books to Read in 2016: The Week.


“It is dazzlingly beautiful and as close to perfect as a reader can hope. . . . The Winged Histories is one of the finest fantasy novels of 2016, or any year.”
— Jane Franklin, Rain Taxi

“Samatar’s second novel’s lyrical and gorgeous prose explores the lives of four very different women caught up in the brutality of war.”
— Recommendations from the Booksmith in the San Francisco Chronicle

“Like an alchemist, Sofia Samatar spins golden landscapes and dazzling sentences. . . . The Winged Histories is a fantasy novel for those who take their sentences with the same slow, unfolding beauty as a cup of jasmine tea, and for adventurers like Tav, who are willing to charge ahead into the unknown.”
Shelf Awareness (starred review)

“All of it is harrowing — and written in such heart-stoppingly beautiful language there’s a good chance readers will ignore the plot and spend a few hours just chewing on the words, slowly, to draw out the flavor. Then they’ll need to read it again. Fortunately, this is a short book; also fortunately, there’s a lot of novel packed into relatively few pages. A highly recommended indulgence.”
— N. K. Jemisin, New York Times Book Review

“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.”
— Jessi Cape, Austin Chronicle

“Throughout it all, Samatar ponders weighty questions. “What is the difference between a king and a monster?” Tialon asks; “What is music?” wonders Seren. But Histories isn’t a book about easy answers, any more than it’s driven by plot. It’s circuitous and hypnotic, told through flashbacks, meditations, and stories within stories. Tialon pores over a history book written by her aunt; Seren sifts through the traditional songs she sings. Rather than being distractions, these nested texts ring with lyricism.
“At the same time, they underscore one of Samatar’s profound themes: how words make us, every bit as much as we make them. At one point Seren,  waxing philosophical about the distinction between sorcery and literacy in Olondria, says that writing is “like riding a horse to go somewhere instead of walking. You go to the same place, but you can carry more.” Accordingly, Samatar carries a great deal with her in the pages of The Winged Histories: beauty, wonder, and a soaring paean to the power of story.”
— Jason Heller, NPR

“Told by four different women, it is a story of war; not epic battles of good and evil, but the attempt to make things right and the realities of violence wielded by one human against another, by one group against another. It’s about the aftermath of war, in which some things are better but others are worse. Above all, it’s a story about love—the terrible love that tears lives apart. Doomed love; impossible love; love that requires a rewriting of the rules, be it for a country, a person, or a story.”
— Jenn Northington,

“An imaginative, poetic, and dark meditation on how history gets made.”
Hello Beautiful

“This book. This perfect book.” — Amal El-Mohtar, Lightspeed

“If you think Samatar has the ear and soul of a poet, you will love this book. . . . If One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende, are favorites of yours, you will love how Samatar shows us a rebellion and a civil war through the lens of a central family. Each of the viewpoint characters (there are four main ones) brings not only a different perspective, but new information about a prince’s attempted coup and a warrior’s attempt to free her nation… or the rise of the Priest of the Stone. . . . If you love stories but distrust them, if you love language and can also see how it is used as a tool or a weapon in the maintenance of status quo, then read The Winged Histories.
— Marion Deeds, Fantasy Literature

“I wouldn’t normally taunt you with a book you can’t have for two months, but this time is different, ok? Because the book in question is a sequel, which means you have time to go and read A Stranger in Olondria, and then be ready for Winged Histories in all its glorious glory. In Olondria, Samatar built us a beautiful fantasy world, full of diverse peoples and customs, gorgeous landscapes, and a dark undercurrent. Our guide to Olondria, Jevick, found himself caught up in the midst of a troubled political situation, in a country on the brink of war. In Winged Histories, we see that war from four perspectives. And, god, what perspectives they are. Samatar has created characters that you will carry around with you for weeks (months?). If you love strong voices, world-building, and books that tell hard truths with beautiful language, these are for you.” — Jenn Northington, Book Riot

“Samatar’s use of poetic yet unpretentious language makes her one of the best writers of today. Reading her books is like sipping very rich mulled wine. The worldbuilding and characterization is exquisite. This suspenseful and elegiac book discusses the lives of fictional women in a fantasy setting who fear their histories will be lost in a way that is only too resonant with the hidden histories of women in our own age.” — Romantic Times Book Reviews (4.5/5 stars, Top Pick)

The Winged Histories is a saga, all right, focusing largely on a single family, but its prose, while characteristically graceful and evocative and often stunningly beautiful.”
— Gary K. Wolfe, Locus

“It is obviously not coincidental that Samatar’s narrators are all women: The Winged Histories addresses that which is so often elided in conventional fantasy novels – the absence of women, or at best, the limited roles available to women. If Lord of the Rings shows us only privileged women, able to disguise themselves in order to fight, or else to remain sequestered from the grubbiness of war, Samatar’s women have to deal with the effects of war head on, because in their various ways they are all involved. While it may be true that Tavis presumes on her status in order to learn to fight, she is nonetheless part of a sustained military campaign, and all that entails. Likewise, she and Siski have always been aware of their significance as nieces of Olondria’s ruler, the Telkan, thanks to their aunt, Mardith, who seeks to gain power through matchmaking. However, through Seren and Tialon we see women who are nominally reliant on men in order to survive, and the ways in which they negotiate survival in a world that is rapidly changing. . . . And still there is more to be said about The Winged Histories and its predecessor. Thoughts and notes piled up as I read on, and I reached the end wanting nothing so much as to return to the beginning and start all over again. Samatar’s work really benefits from rereading, which is more than can be said for a lot of contemporary novels. This is a very satisfying novel to read, challenging and troubling too, as the very best fiction ought to be.”
— Maureen Kincaid Speller, Interzone, 265

“Tav, a teenage girl from the House of Telkan, ‘the most exalted bloodline’ in Olondria, has run away to become a swordmaiden in the army. As she fights alongside the men, she realizes the war is a distraction while the ruling branch of her family subjugates her native kingdom, Kestenya, and surrounding territories. . . . Samatar is a writer of uncommon beauty, and she takes a genre that has historically tended to focus on the heroic exploits of men and shows how those exploits involve and affect women. This novel teaches us the importance of giving voice to experience and bearing witness; as one character says, writing is less about words than ‘how we are written into one another. How this is history.’ A lyrical immersion into a finely wrought world.” — Kirkus Reviews

“In 2013 Sophia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria introduced us to new world described with such poetic verve that is has since become a living classic of fantasy fiction. With her new book, The Winged Histories, Samatar’s great storytelling talent and wickedly beautiful prose takes us to an Olondria wracked by war. Despite this bloody and turbulent time, four women will have their voices resonate above the fray. Their stories and the stories they tell themselves are vivid portraits of women willing to challenge the conventional and fighting in myriad ways to be remembered. Samatar’s creative use of a section titled “A Common History” unites the voices of these women to unrelated yet connected people or events which adds an emotive depth to the story. She also includes a richly imagined mythology that is shared by the characters, a scintillating vein of ideas bringing such beauty and darkness, but that helps us understand unearthly changes need to be embraced, despite our fears, in order to be truly free.”
— Raul M. Chapa, BookPeople, Austin, TX

“Can I smear tears on a piece of paper and call that a review? This was GORGEOUS and emotionally bruising and so so wonderful and engaging and many other perfect words. There is so much world-building, a fascinating mythology, and beautiful language (I’m trying not to yell about Seren’s little language lessons). There are amazing epigraphs, which I’m always a huge fan of. Samatar winds the stories of four very different women through a monumental period of Olondrian history, and it’s one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in the last year. Poetic and bloody, lovely and dark, this is a book to be SAVORED, and I will be re-reading it again soon, at a much slower pace.”
— Allison Senecal, Book Shop of Fort Collins

“Sofia Samatar’s work is a revelation. Her prose has only become richer and more assured between her debut novel and this follow-up. The Winged Histories gives the stories of four women whose stories are linked by the events that shape them (and that they help to shape). The contexts of the complicated class and national histories the inform these women is described in such clear detail that I feel that I know them all, their histories and their inner realities. Amazing, incredible, lush, emotionally rich, politically fascinating, this is one of the most satisfying novels I have picked up in ages. It begs the reader in each moment to consider how histories are created, and the costs and inequalities behind how we all must fight to be a part of history, however it gets written.”
— Gretchen Treu, A Room of One’s Own, Madison, WI

“Pleasantly startling and unexpected. Her prose is by turns sharp and sumptuous, and always perfectly controlled. Samatar’s writing strongly recalls Guy Gavriel Kay’s fantasy, which reads like historical fiction, but there are strains here too of Jane Austen and something wilder.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Advance Readers

“A nuanced and subtle tale of war, love, duty, family, and honor. It’s like polyphony—a chorus of voices singing different melodies, sometimes at odds, but ultimately harmonious. And moving. And exciting. Have I mentioned exciting?”
— Delia Sherman

“Sparse and magical, beautiful and terrible; The Winged Histories is a story spun out of stories and the lives of fierce women, each a warrior in her own right.”
— Nalo Hopkinson

“A brightly moving narrative that crystallizes into scenes as delicate, hard, and changing as ice, that rises up to meet four women in the midst of warfare, and the most devastating kinds of devotion and rebellion. It is astonishing what The Winged Histories does with language, what it does as a novel.”
— Amina Cain, author of Creature

About the Author

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories, the short story collection, Tender, and Monster Portraits, a collaboration with her brother, the artist Del Samatar. She is the recipient of the William L. Crawford Award, the Astounding Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award. She teaches Arabic literature, African literature, and speculative fiction at James Madison University.


“But those on the border write no histories. Their book is memory. Their element is air.”
— Karanis of Loi, The Eighth Meditation

Book One: The History of the Sword
Everywhere the sound of wings.

1. Secrets

The swordmaiden will discover the secrets of men. She will discover that men at war are not as men at peace. She will discover an unforeseen comradeship. Take care: this comradeship is a Dueman shield. It does not extend all the way to the ground.
The swordmaiden will discover her secret forebears. Maris the Crooked fought for Keliathu in the War of the Tongues. Wounded and left with the high-piled dead, she was rescued before the pyre was lit by the man who most despised her: her second lieutenant, Farod. “Farod,” she said to him, “what have you done?” And he answered: “Do not thank me, General. I am like a man who has preserved his enemy’s coin; and I am like a man who, having seen his enemy safely submerged among crocodiles, has drawn him out again.”
The swordmaiden will discover that her forebears are few. There was Maris, and there was Galaron of Nain, and there was the False Countess of Kestenya.
The swordmaiden will hear rumors of others, but she will not find them.
Her greatest battle will be waged against oblivion.

— Ferelanyi of Bream, The Swordmaiden’s Codex

I became a swordmaiden in the Brogyar war, among the mountains.
I was fifteen when I went there to school. Fifteen, and a runaway. The old coach swayed, the pink light of the lantern bounced against the mountainside, and I sat with my hands clenched in embroidered gloves. My furs were cold. I made Fulmia stop the carriage at the officers’ hall, so that I could give them my letter. This hall had once been a temple of Avalei; now fires burned among its smoke-stained pillars, and battered shields lay stacked up in the porch. Nirai stood in the doorway and cried in the wind: “What news from the Valley?” Then he peered closer and started. “It’s all right,” I said. “I have a letter from the Duke.” Inside they were all there, Uncle Gishas, Prince Ruaf, and others. They passed my letter around the great stone table.

Praise for Sofia Samatar’s debut novel, A Stranger in Olondria:

“It’s the rare first novel with no unnecessary parts – and, in terms of its elegant language, its sharp insights into believable characters, and its almost revelatory focus on the value and meaning of language and story, it’s the most impressive and intelligent first novel I expect to see this year, or perhaps for a while longer.”

“The excerpt from Sofia Samatar’s compelling novel A Stranger in Olondria should be enough to make you run out and buy the book. Just don’t overlook her short “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” the best story about loss and love and selkies I’ve read in years.”
— K. Tempest Bradford, NPR

“Sofia Samatar’s debut fantasy A Stranger in Olondria is gloriously vivid and rich.”
— Adam Roberts, The Guardian, Best Science Fiction Books of 2013

“Books can limit our experiences and reinforce the structures of empire. They can also transport us outside existing structures. The same book may do both in different ways or for different people. Samatar has written a novel that captures the ecstasy and pain of encountering the world through books, showing us bits and pieces of our contemporary world while also transporting us into a new one.”

“The novel is full of subtle ideas and questions that never quite get answered. It is those dichotomies that lie at the heart of this novel, such as what is superstition and what is magic? How much do class and other prejudices affect how we view someone’s religion? Jevick often believes himself above such things, as does the current religious regime of Olondria, but in a way both are haunted until they believe. . . . Samatar gives us no easy answers and there are no villains in the book — simply ordinary people doing what they believe is right.

“As you might expect (or hope) from a novel that is in part about the painting of worlds with words, the prose in Stranger is glorious. Whether through imaginative individual word choices—my favourite here being the merchants rendered “delirious” by their own spices . . . Samatar is adept at evoking place, mood, and the impact of what is seen on the one describing it for us.”
­— Strange Horizons

“Vivid, gripping, and shot through with a love of books.”—Graham Sleight, Locus

“With characteristic wit, poise, and eloquence, Samatar delivers a story about our vulnerability to language and literature, and the simultaneous experience of power and surrender inherent in the acts of writing and reading.”—Amal El-Mohtar,

“Samatar’s sensual descriptions create a rich, strange landscape, allowing a lavish adventure to unfold that is haunting and unforgettable.”—Library Journal (*starred review*)

“Sofia Samatar has an expansive imagination, a poetic and elegant style, and she writes stories so rich, with characters so full of life, they haunt you long after the story ends. A real pleasure.”
—Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and The Virgin of Flames

“A book about the love of books. Her sentences are intoxicating and one can easily be lost in their intricacy…. Samatar’s beautifully written book is one that will be treasured by book lovers everywhere.”
—Raul M. Chapa, BookPeople, Austin, TX

“Thoroughly engaging and thoroughly original. A story of ghosts and books, treachery and mystery, ingeniously conceived and beautifully written. One of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in recent years.”—Jeffrey Ford, author of The Girl in the Glass

“Mesmerizing—a sustained and dreamy enchantment. A Stranger in Olondria reminds both Samatar’s characters and her readers of the way stories make us long for far-away, even imaginary, places and how they also bring us home again.”
—Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club

“Let the world take note of this dazzling and accomplished fantasy. Sofia Samatar’s debut novel is both exhilarating epic adventure and loving invocation of what it means to live through story, poetry, language. She writes like the heir of Ursula K. Le Guin and Gene Wolfe.”
—Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble

“Imagine an inlaid cabinet, its drawers within drawers filled with spices, roses, amulets, bright cities, bones, and shadows. Sofia Samatar is a merchant of wonders, and her A Stranger in Olondria is a bookshop of dreams.”
—Greer Gilman, author of Cloud & Ashes

Cover illustration by Kathleen Jennings.


Mar. 30, 7:30 p.m., The Last Bookstore, 453 S Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013
Apr. 1, 10:30 a.m., AWP, Small Beer Press: 15th Anniversary Reading, F161, Room 513, Meeting Room Level, LA Convention Center, Los Angeles, CA (Sofia Samatar,  Ayize Jama-Everett,  Gavin J. Grant,  Juan Martinez,  Maureen F. McHugh)
Apr. 2, 12:00 p.m. AWP, “In the Realms of the Real and the Unreal,” S171. (Katharine Beutner,  Sofia Samatar,  Carmen Machado,  Alice Sola Kim,  Kelly Link)