With WIND FOLLOWER, Carole McDonnell has written a literary fantasy that makes you feel like you are absolutely steeped in another culture. The prose is gorgeous and the characters three-dimensional, with both idealistic traits and glaring faults. Emotions are unsheathed and roil throughout the plot. It almost feels like a walk through a spirit world. Tempers flair and knifes flash at the most unexpected times.
At its heart is a very simple story, the story of a man and a woman who meet, get married and fall in love, in that order. The cultures that they live in have very specific traditions. One is that if the wife of a warrior has a child, it is the warrior's child. It does not matter who the actual father is. Loic's father honors this custom even when one of his wives, the Third Wife (she has no other name that I could find) was unfaithful. The Third Wife is spiteful and vindictive, and she uses her lover to wrong Satha.
The rest of the story is about the ramifications of this evil act. There are twists at every turn. About halfway way through, Satha and Loic separate. A little over halfway through the novel, Loic finds himself imprisoned by the spirits and he has a protracted battle against them. At this point, the plot lost much of its pacing for me, at least during the Loic chapters. During the Satha chapters, she relives the handmaid story from Genesis. Surprises happen at every turn, but don't be surprised if you find yourself as frustrated as Satha and Loic are at their situations.
McDonnell does a good job of giving each of the four races in the novel different faults, but one race appears to have the sole virtue of bearing the word of the Creator. Other than that, they seem to be almost wholly awful. In fact, in the glossary they are described as a "hateful tribe." The concept of an evil race is one that I've long disagreed with in fantasy literature. All too often, you have the elves and they are good, and the orcs and they are evil. You see orcs, you kill them. This is why I enjoyed Morgan Howell's Queen of the Orcs, and why Jim Hines's Goblin Quest is still on my reading list. They explore other possibilities.
In the backstory, the lands of the three tribes are invaded by a fourth. The three tribes appear to be wealthy but they are medieval. The forth tribe however, has guns and explosives. This does not figure prominently in the story, but the parallels to American history cannot be ignored. Especially when the tribes are all gathered to a place. One might be tempted to think these tribes are based on African tribes, but I find stronger parallels with Native Americans.
The plot abounds with conflicts, and not all are resolved by the end of the book. There is the conflict between Satha and Loic, between Loic and Satha's rapist, between Satha and her rapist, between Loic and the spirits, between the spirts and the Creator, between Satha and her Angelini captors, and I haven't even named half of them. McDonnell does a good job with the "conflict on every page" precept of fiction writing.
And she did a great job of keeping me guessing. Right up until the final conflict between Loic and the rapist, I had no idea if Loic would seek vengeance or not. He was specifically ordered not to by the Creator but . . . does he do it or not? I absolutely loved the events leading up to the final conflict and the ceremonies and traditions bound up in it. I've never read anything like it. Loic's choice here has ramifications right up to the end of the novel, and for years beyond.
The dialog reminded me strongly of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth. It has a definite rhythm, and it doesn't feel like natural dialog. Now that I think about it, it almost feels like Biblical dialog. If you read it, expect the dialog to feel something like poetry. In fact, the entire book is stuffed with rich prose. There is no grittiness here; no words meant to shock. It is like a work of detailed art. However, McDonnell does not overdo it like Cecilia Dart-Thornton did in The Ill-Made Mute. It is highly readable.
I can only describe the ending as bittersweet. Happy things happen, but some surprising awful things happen as well. People pay for their choices right up until the bitter end.
WIND FOLLOWER was a lush and impressive debut. It will make you think. It might make you cry. In a few places, it even makes you laugh. This is the type of novel that you will think about for days afterword.
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