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Flight of the Golden Harpy by Susan Klaus
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Flight of the Golden Harpy

by Susan Klaus

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It always pains me to write a negative review, especially for a book I had high hopes for and had looked forward to so immensely. As mythical or legendary creatures go, harpies don’t get near enough attention in fantasy, and I was very excited to see a novel feature them with such prominence and with a background that sounded so incredibly fascinating and unique. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy this book. I try to look at the big picture when reviewing, taking into account both story and writing, and there were too many issues with both that prevented me from getting into it.

The first thing I noticed was the very awkward and clipped writing style. A lot of telling and very little showing, laying out the character’s every single thought and action. There’s a clear message of environmentalism, but it’s delivered with the elegance and subtlety of a sledgehammer. Sometimes I would come across phrasing or word choice that is just plain odd, especially in dialogue. I couldn’t help but recall a piece of writing advice I once read, suggesting that writers should read their dialogue out loud to see how it comes across. Does it sound natural? Is it something you can picture a real person saying? A lot of the conversations in this book don’t pass this test, sounding very forced and scripted.

I was also distracted by too many discrepancies and questions that nagged at the back of my mind about the story. The book takes place on the planet Dora, following a young woman named Kari whose life was saved by a golden male harpy when she was a child. Ever since that day, Kari has been obsessed with harpies, particularly with her special golden named Shail, whose coloring is an extremely rare form of the half-bird, half-mortal species. Her father sends her to earth for ten years out of concern for her, hoping she would forget the harpy, but of course she doesn’t. Kari returns to Dora feeling bitter and angry, and more in love with Shail than ever.

I’ll be honest. When they were finally reunited, I was more confused than happy. Was I supposed to see Shail as an animal or a person? Kari treated him like a pet more than anything, giving him pats on the head and even calling him “Good boy”. I was at a complete loss as to what to make of their relationship, because calling it a romance felt horribly wrong on so many levels. The writing didn’t help this, describing their lovemaking as more animalistic (not in the good way), biological and Darwinian, completely devoid of emotion or passion. It’s also unclear at the beginning whether or not Kari truly fell in love with Shail, or indeed he had cast his “harpy spell” on her; if the latter, clearly there are disturbing implications, especially since he makes his first sexual advance on her out of instinctual desperation and while she was half “caught” in his magic. To be fair, a lot of this was semi-explained later on in the novel, but it still made me very uncomfortable and the relationship didn’t sit right with me at all.

Also, about two thirds of the way through the book are not one but two very graphic and violent rape scenes. Major trigger warnings should come with this novel. It’s an adult book with many adult themes, and while I don’t shock easily, I was a bit unprepared and blindsided. The mature and graphic content caused my brain to struggle with the dissonance caused by the relatively simplistic style of storytelling, and nothing in the description indicated that the book could take such dark, violent turns. Readers be forewarned, these are some very distressing scenes.

Finally, perhaps one of the biggest factors preventing my enjoyment of this book was Kari herself, who plays a disappointingly passive role in what is supposed to be her story. She’s a self-proclaimed recluse and standoffish, and a self-absorbed snob to boot, which by itself wouldn’t be so bad if she also wasn’t so weak of character. In the last half of the book, her involvement in resolving the conflict was practically nil, shrinking in on herself and relying on others to take charge and solve the problem. The concept of harpies in this book is underdeveloped and not very convincing, but (and minor spoiler here) what rankled me most about them is the idea that female harpies lose their minds out of grief if their mates die, and they either die themselves soon afterwards from despair or committing suicide. As someone who prefers strong, proactive female characters in my fantasy, both this aspect of harpies and Kari’s helplessness and utter lack of drive really bothered me.

I ended up finishing this book, and I don’t regret that, but I really wish I had liked it better. Ultimately, there were too many issues with the story and writing, and even a trivial detail like the fact I couldn’t stop picturing Shail as Brad Pitt (the author dedicated the book to the actor for providing the inspiration for Shail, and her bio on her website actually states all of her protagonists resemble a young Brad Pitt) compounded to make me rate the book the way I did. I wanted badly to like this book, but in the end it wasn’t for me. ( )
  stefferoo | Jul 22, 2014 |
I would like to thank NetGalley & Tor Books for granting me a copy of this e-ARC to read in exchange for an honest review. Though I received this e-book for free that in no way impacts my review.

Kari, a young woman, returns to her jungle planet of Dora after ten years in Earth’s schools and is determined to unravel the mysteries surrounding the harpies, a feral species half-bird, half-mortal. The residences of Dora believe the harpies are dangerous game animals and hunt them for their trophy wings, but Kari thinks they are intelligent and not just wild animals. A rare golden harpy, a teenage blond male with yellow wings rescued Kari as a child from the jaws of a water monster. Upon returning home, she learns the harpies are facing extinction with the over-hunting and she sets out to save them, all the time wondering if the golden male is still alive.

Flight of the Golden Harpy is a fantasy, but also a mystery, thriller, and a love story that leaves a reader questioning our humanity.

This novel reads in part like a Greek tragedy and in part like any generic 'save the species' tract. Yet somehow the two work well together, creating a love story that spans decades, lies, deceit, and even species. Ms. Klaus has taken bits a pieces from several tried and true story lines and created something unique and special.

Both Kari and Shail are fascinating characters in their own right, but when you put them together magic happens as they learn from each other what none before them have successfully managed, trust. Yet their trust must by necessity bring in other humans as well as other harpies, and this is where things get dicey.

Kari is a fairly typical young woman, but with a raw passion for nature, and the firm belief in the goodness of harpies. Being rescued by a rare golden harpy when she was but a young girl pretty much determined things for her. Yet her father John felt very strongly about harpies, and none of his feelings were the warm and fuzzy kind. After her rescue he sends Kari to Earth for schooling. Ten years of being trapped on a planet with only grey concrete & steel everywhere she looked, of endlessly breathing the same recycled air. Ten years, trapped under a dome filled with towering buildings never seeing anything remotely like the beauty of home. Kari hated Earth and all the greed and corruption it represented. She'd seen the photographs of Earth's former beauty, before man destroyed it. The comparisons between Earth's Jurassic era and her beautiful home planet of Dora scared her: the towering ferns, trees so tall you couldn't see to the top, the rich diversity and abundance of life; she could already see man making the same mistakes all over again. If she learned anything at all on Earth it was that she never, ever wanted Dora to become the next Earth. Yet already it seems headed down the same road, starting with the harpies, who have been so over-hunted they are teetering on the edge of extinction.

Shail has been waiting ten long years for Kari's return to Dora. But how will he let her know of the harpies inner feelings since the males don't vocalize and it seems no one has ever seen a female harpy? He knows that Kari is the only one for him, but how can he express this to her? And how can he make her understand the urgency of their situation?

As the relationship between Kari and Shail unfolds, with all its ups and downs, so to do other stories. Shameful stories. Stories of darkness, lies, deliberate deceit. The question is, can Kari and Shail find the necessary bridge between their cultures in time to save not just the harpies but possibly all life on Dora? For the larger tale here shows the interconnectedness of all life within an ecosystem, be it a small pond or an entire planet. It makes it clear that the loss of even one species could cause the loss of all, flora and fauna alike.

On the surface this is simply an entertaining love story, filled with suspense at every turn, and brimming over with emotions enough for all. But it is almost impossible to miss the deeper meaning that has been woven into the tale, and it is a crucial story that all need to learn, for we are on the cusp of destroying our planet, and we may not even have time to send explorers out to propagate other planets to try again, or to save those currently on Earth. Sounds dire, but it isn't far off from the truth, and indeed may be closer to the truth than we yet know. ( )
  Isisunit | Jun 10, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Susan Klausprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bell, JulieCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 076533755X, Hardcover)

Kari, a young woman, returns to the jungle planet of Dora after ten years in Earth’s schools determined to unravel the mysteries surrounding the harpies, a feral species with the appearance half-bird, half-human.

The human colonists believe harpies are dangerous animals, which are known to steal women. The creatures are hunted like wild game, their wings considered rare trophies. But Kari distrusts these rumors. When she was attacked by a monster in the jungle as a child, a male harpy with rare golden coloring rescued her. 

Constant hunting by men has driven the harpies to the brink of extinction. Is Kari’s savior, the elegant golden harpy, is still alive? If so, how long can he and his flock survive the ravages of mankind?

Suan Klaus's Flight of the Golden Harpy is an imaginative and romantic fantasy novel that questions what it means to be human.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:30 -0400)

Kari, a young woman, returns to the jungle planet of Dora after ten years in Earth's schools determined to unravel the mysteries surrounding the harpies, a feral species with the appearance half-bird, half-human. The human colonists believe harpies are dangerous animals, which are known to steal women. The creatures are hunted like wild game, their wings considered rare trophies.… (more)

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