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 writing under the pen name Robin Hobb, I very much doubt it ever will. Lindholm’s novels are very different in style and tone from Hobb’s 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 Harpy’s Flight is an extremely powerful one. Lindholm tosses the reader right into the midst of the whirlwind of emotions that is Ki. Grief, pain and vengefulness just leap off the pages and set the tone for the rest of the novel. Lindholm’s writing may be different from Hobb’s but there is one thing they share. They make their characters suffer. The story is surprisingly tragic; 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’s 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 a major clash of cultural differences. Ki’s origins remain partly unexplored in this novel, but she grew up among the Romni, a Gypsy-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 Harpy’s Flight 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 Harpy’s Flight. 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. That is another thing that Hobb and Lindholm have in common — the characterization is always impressive.
In some ways you can tell Harpy’s Flight is an early work. Lindholm switches abruptly between the present and flashbacks or dreams. The novel clearly lacks a bit of refinement there. The way Lindholm presents the individual members of Sven’s family is also a bit confusing at times. Most of these people have some part to play in the tragedy that unfolds, but some appear pretty much without introduction or just the barest hint of one. It doesn’t detract too much from the story, but there is room for improvement there.
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 am glad to have my copy of the second volume, The Windsingers, on hand.
Windsinger — (1983-1989) Publisher: HARPY’S FLIGHT was Lindholm’s first novel, and the first in the WINDSINGERS series, which introduced her popular gypsy characters, Ki and Vandien. Across the mountain sheathed with ice, through the treacherous shadow of the Sisters, Ki was running for her life, followed by Harpies, sworn to vegance; by the bitter memories of a once-idyllic past; and by one stubborn, dark haired man who seemed intent on being part of her future.