Carole McDonnell,
Wind Follower
(Juno, 2007)

I must be getting old. I find I have little patience with fantasy with complex world-building that requires one to constantly flip back to a glossary to find out who's who and what's what. Carole McDonnell's lushly written novel reflects meticulous work to construct her medieval African world, but she has packed so much into the novel that it threatens to drown the story.

The story is narrated in the first person in alternating chapters by Loic, the son of a Doreni chieftain, and Satha, his wife, the daughter of a poor tentmaker and of the Theseni clan, a darker-skinned people. Satha is reluctant at first, but soon becomes devoted to Loic, whose "falling sickness" (epilepsy) has some viewing him as a shaman.

Eventually, Satha is "dishonored," and this is probably where things fell apart for me. She is raped by her mother-in-law's cousin and, as a result, the baby she is carrying is stillborn while she nearly bleeds to death. The mother-in-law, who is only called Third Wife and is so cartoonlike in her depiction that I see her as the evil stepmother in a Disney fairy-tale movie, has planned this so that Loic can no longer "couch" Satha because she has "lain with another man." It's bad enough that she's cackling about it, but it would seem that everyone buys into it, including Satha.

It's the idea of "dishonor" that made me want to throw the book across the room. The concept stands for such a fantasy cliche that I'm surprised that anyone still uses it. Granted, Loic's father decides to eliminate that belief from the teachings -- although how convenient is it that he can do so -- but that it was there in the first place is just annoying. In addition, I didn't need every detail of the rape described to me any more than I needed a step-by-step description of Loic and Satha's first "couching."

I would also like to read a fantasy where people speak rather than declaim in formal-sounding language. Every sentence is so carefully composed that it almost seems that the characters are reciting from a script. It adds weight to a book that is already heavy with theological underpinnings and multicultural complexities.

McDonnell does have a gift for description and in general writes well. But except for the Africa-like setting, there really isn't much here that's new.

by Donna Scanlon
19 December 2009

Wind Follower is a breath of fresh air in the romantic fantasy genre. While a freshman effort for the author, Carole McDonnell has a deft grip of social concepts and worldbuilding and a gift for lyrical prose. McDonnell's world is based on a multiracial culture, including ancient African, Asian and Caucasian tribes with multiple religious beliefs.

The primary tale is a love story between impulsive young Loic, a sensitive Pagatsu warrior with falling-disease and the ability to see others' hearts, and Satha, a Theseni spinster who was not chosen for marriage because of her too-dark skin and poverty. Eighteen-year-old Loic falls instantly in love with Satha, who was old enough to have known him as a baby, and insists upon an instant marriage. Satha is not so quick to fall for her passionate young husband, but she agrees to the arrangement to help elevate her family from their misfortunes.

Satha is thrust without the customary year's training in horse riding, food knowledge, daggerwork and diplomacy into the role of Arhe and soon-to-be mother. Her compassion for an adulterous mother-in-law leads her into rape and degradation and war with a former ally. This particular scene was difficult to read. Kudos to McDonnell who depicted rape as an act of violence and power rather than erotica. The results of this act change the lives of the couple dramatically. While an angry Loic goes off to fight, Satha is kidnapped and taken into slavery by the Angleni, the fair-skinned invaders.

McDonnell's literary sword is as fine as Damascus steel. While most writers strive for a good line every few pages, Wind Follower is chock full of memorable verbiage. In addition, the story has some excellent advice for everyone, including: Those who gossip with you will often gossip about you.

Not only is McDonnell a gifted wordsmith, the glossary at the end of this novel shows how much time and consideration she's put into world-building. These documents, along with Patricia Wrede's world-building questionnaire, are fine examples for any aspiring fantasy author.

by Becky Kyle
19 December 2009


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