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The Winged Horse (Legends of the Five…
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The Winged Horse (Legends of the Five Directions) (Volume 2)

by C. P. Lesley

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Absolutely fascinating readable follow-up to the author's The Golden Lynx! This time we follow the adventures of the Tatar Ogodai, brother to Nasan, heroine of the aforementioned novel. Ogodai travels to another tribe to wed a young lady, Firuza, to whom he had been betrothed years before, also to claim the khanate of that tribe. Before an exciting conclusion the outcome of which will determine the ruler, the present khan is murdered, Feruza is abducted, and there's an attempt on the life of Firuza's brother, the bey Jahangir. I learned the importance of herds of cattle and horses to these people through the incident of someone's stampeding the animals. Not only did I learn much of a culture I know next to nothing about: the steppe people, but this novel was a cracking good story. Nasan and her Russian husband, Daniil, lend their help and support; Nasan picks up clues in determining 'whodunit'. I enjoyed the descriptions of nomad life and customs, also of medieval Russia, in the Kazan section. All four of the principals were engaging characters. Highly recommended for the reader eager to try something unusual and not in the usual mold. The striking cover [horse and yurt against the night sky] drew my attention. ( )
  janerawoof | Dec 5, 2014 |
It takes a certain literary sang-froid for a writer to feature a female hero in a Mongol yarn.

The Mongol in modern imagination is the definition of alpha male – brutal, barbaric and bloodthirsty. "A man's greatest work is to break his enemies, to drive them before him, to take from them all the things that have been theirs, to hear the weeping of those who cherished them,” declared Genghis Khan (1162-1227). Historians estimate that the Mongol hordes slaughtered anywhere from 20 to 60 million people in the process of conquering an empire that stretched from China to the Caspian Sea. In one massacre alone, 700,000 people were reportedly killed. We’re talking traditional “man’s work” here – buckets of blood and destruction of civilizations.

But author C.P. Leslie knows what most readers (including me) would never suspect – Mongol women weren’t simply passive, timid camp followers providing bed entertainment and dishwashing for the boys. They enjoyed surprising respect and status within this supremely testosterone-driven society. Mongol women had the right to inherit property from their deceased husbands; could divorce. They wore trousers, drove carts, loaded camels, rode horses, routinely received military training, and could put an arrow through you at full gallop. Mongolian Empress Queen Manduhai the Wise (1449-1510) led an army in battle while pregnant (once while carrying twins), reunifying and ruling the eastern Mongol empire. Princess Khutulun was famous for both her beauty and her physical strength. According to Marco Polo, she refused to marry any man who couldn’t beat her in wrestling. A hundred men tried and failed, forfeiting a hundred horses each, and she died a spinster with a corral full of steeds. Apocryphal in some details, perhaps, but you get the point. Mongol women weren’t shrinking violets.

“The Winged Horse,” then, isn’t some politically-correct re-imagining of Mongol gender roles. Leslie’s feisty heroine Firuza (“turquoise” in Persian) is both possible and historically accurate.

It’s July 1534, midsummer evening. We’re crowded into a felt tent on the grassy steppe north of Crimea, and Firuza’s father, Bahadur Bey, aging leader of a fractious horde of nomadic Tartars, is feasting on a quail leg. Short hours later, he’s dying – of what? Indigestion? Poison? He summons clan leaders to his deathbed and makes them swear to accept Bulat Khan’s 19-year-old son, Ogodai, as the horde’s new overlord. Bulat is Bahadur’s blood brother and a descendent of Genghis Khan. He’s powerful and well-connected, tight with the encroaching Christian Russians. The two qarindash have also agreed that 18-year-old Firuza will marry Ogodai and become his chief wife.

Not everyone is happy with the deal. A dissident faction backs Bulat’s estranged son Tulpar, arguing for an alliance with the Muslim Khan of Crimea, and the plotting and intrigue begin. When Ogodai arrives to claim his horde and bride, he discovers he’ll have to win over a divided council – as well as Firuza. She can cast her lot with either Ogodai or Tulpar, and the man who wins her hand must accept her as an equal partner. She’s no harem beauty, but she’s tough, intelligent, and has a plan of her own for the clan’s future – delivered to her in a vision by the “Grandmothers.”
Firuza’s Nogai band is only nominally Muslim. In daily life, they practice shamanism and ancestor worship. The clan’s dead grandmothers travel in a tent on a wooden cart – a moveable shrine filled with spirit dolls dressed in clothes and lined upon an altar. They communicate through dreams of instruction and wisdom, like the one Firuza receives; they also deliver through the horde’s entranced shaman a surprise that propels the plot forward. Leslie’s priestess is a memorable creature. An old crone dressed in ragged skins, strips of leather, ropes and bells, with tinkling shells dangling from the brim of her fur-trimmed hat, she chants and mumbles snatches of Arabic as she circles the fire, rattle in hand, tossing mare’s milk and bits of meat fat into the flames before falling into a trance, allowing the dead Bahadur Bey to deliver his shocker.

“The Winged Horse” is rich with cultural exotica and imaginative re-creation. We’re swept backwards five centuries to an Eastern Europe of leather armor and Ottoman daggers, wrestling matches and horse races, a hooded eagle on a shoulder, a sheep’s head on a platter. As the horde packs up to decamp, Firuza is roused from her sleep by the “fragrance of rose petals and jasmine, citrus and lavender, wafting from veils, tunics and robes.” Historical dates are given in both Gregorian and Islamic calendars, reminding the reader that for Muslims time starts in our 622 A.D. We learn Chagatai Turkic served as the diplomatic language of the polyglot Tartar khanates (like French played in 18th-19th century Europe, and English does globally in the 21st). We discover that the deadly “black widow” spider is native to Central Asia – an entomological tidbit the author weaves into a clever assassination attempt perpetrated by a khan’s catamite (Ironically, “black widow” is a label given by the Russian press in 2002 to black-hijab- robed female suicide bombers from Muslim Chechnya).Horse lore provides the novel’s title, and peppers the pages. The heroine rides a “Turkmen palomino.” When forced by thirst, Tartars drank the blood of their horses. The winged horse Tulpar (Pegasus in Greek mythology) carried dying souls to the celestial hunting grounds. Small details that collectively create entertaining historical fiction, even without the gore.

Only one head rolls in Leslie’s novel (CNN today is twice as graphic), but the strong-willed spirit of Genghis Khan’s descendants infuses this fresh take on a much-maligned culture.

If you’re suffering from Regency romance fatigue, “The Winged Horse” is the perfect antidote. ( )
  schmicker | Aug 24, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 061598021X, Paperback)

The mission seems simple: head south, collect the bride promised six years earlier, and ensure that nothing odd is going on among the nomadic Tatars. Ogodai anticipates no problems. In fact, he looks forward to the chance to break free of his father and establish himself in a horde of his own. But Ogodai’s betrothed seems wary at best, his half-brother has competing plans for both the girl and the horde, and even the briefest investigation shows that indeed, something very odd is going on in the nomadic camp. Before long, Ogodai realizes that the contest threatens his own life and his betrothed’s happiness. But can he persuade his unwilling would-be queen that an alliance with him offers more than the traditional role of chief wife?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:50 -0400)

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