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The Guardian Herd: Windborn, by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez – book review by Fred Patten




Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

51O3DS-X8FL._SX346_BO1204203200_.jpg?resThe Guardian Herd: Windborn, by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez. Illustrated by David McClellan; maps.
NYC, HarperCollinsPublishers/Harper, September 2016, hardcover $16.99 ([xvii +] 340 [+ 3] pages), Kindle $9.99.

When we last left the flying horses of Anok, Starfire had finally united the dissident pegasi of the five separate Herds just in time to meet his two opponents’ Black Army and Ice Warriors, both under the command of Nightwind the Destroyer, the immortal, evil stallion from 400 years ago, for a sixty-page battle climax. As this fourth Guardian Herd novel, Windborn, begins, Star seems to have defeated all his enemies. He has integrated the former Black Army into his United Army. But Star is temporarily separated from his United Army, and when he returns, he finds that his pegasi have been captured by Nightwind and have disappeared.

While looking for them, he meets his deadly enemy, Frostfire, the former commander of the Black Army. Nightwind has discarded Frostfire as a loser and taken Petalcloud and her Ice Warriors to be his troops. Nightwing has vanished along with Star’s herd plus Frostfire’s mate, Larksong, and their colt. As both Star and Frostfire have to find Nightwing and the missing pegasi, they reluctantly agree to search together.

Meanwhile, Nightwing has been capturing all the pegasi that he can find (around twelve thousand) and forcing them to join his herd, without telling them where he is taking them:

“Morningleaf’s tears soaked her chestnut face and dripped off her cheeks, falling hundreds of winglengths to the ground below. She dangled between her mother, Silverlake, and her friend, Redfire. The two steeds did their best to carry her through the clouds without hurting her worse. Her brother, Hazelwind, and two of her best friends, Echofrost and Shadepebble, flew ahead, creating a wake for the steeds, to ease their burden. Echofrost’s brother, Bumblewind, flew behind with Brackentail and Dewberry, whispering about escape.” (p. 17)

“Morningleaf glanced down at the land passing far below her hooves. They’d been traveling for fifteen days, visiting the five abandoned territories and searching for stray pegasi to join their herd. Many were elders, and when they refused to follow Nightwing, he’d set them all on fire. Each time Morningleaf closed her eyes, she saw the flames and heard the screams.” (pgs. 19-20)

Windborn alternates its chapters (or pairs of chapters) between Starfire’s and Frostfire’s argument-filled search, and Morningleaf’s and her friends’ attempts to escape from Nightwing:

“Star was larger than Frostfire and should have been taking the headwind to speed their flight, but the white stallion refused to draft on Star’s wake. And it was silly for Star to draft off Frostfire’s, so they flew in each other’s competing currents, slowing each other down, and Star became frustrated. They landed at the water’s edge, and Frostfire plunged his nose into the current. Star spoke. ‘We’re not working as a team.’

‘So,’ said Frostfire, water dripping down his chin.

‘So we should,’ said Star. ‘If you let me lead, we’ll travel faster.’

‘I won’t draft off you,’ said Frostfire, ruffling his violet-edged feathers. ‘You can draft off me.’” (pgs. 29-30)

“Nightwing landed his captured herd in the scrubby foothills located east of Mountain Herd’s territory. They were inland now, far from the coast, flying over a long, winding river. They’d been traveling for twenty-two days. Nightwing settled the herd once a day to drink and eat, and once a night to sleep. The pegasi were weary and hungry, and Morningleaf was no exception. Her wings ached from holding her weight.” (p. 36)

The two stories come together about halfway through Windborn, and the last half of the novel becomes Star’s and his friends’ plans to get Nightwing’s vast new Wind Herd of pegasi free from his control. There is the death of a major character, attacks by dire wolves, a giant tornado, and (here’s a giant spoiler that you won’t get from the advertising) the climactic battle between Starfire and Nightwing and the end of this series! Wow!

The four novels of the Guardian Herd series are all dramatic. I have some trouble imagining the pegasi – horses with large wings – doing such things as, here, digging Vietnam War-style tunnels with their hooves to spy on their enemies. Each volume has a Cast of Characters at the beginning of the book that describes too many multicolored pegasi. Here there are 44 of them: “Crystalfeather – small chestnut mare with bright-blue feathers, two front white socks, white strip on face. Birchcloud – lead mare. Light bay mare with green feathers, two white front socks. Graystone – Ice Warrior. White stallion, silver mane and tail, pale-yellow feathers each with a silver center, blue eyes.” (pages viii-xi) But for readers who like dramatic talking, flying horses – My Little Pony with tragedy and melodrama — this can’t be beat.

But wait! There’s more!! An early passage here alludes to a vanished Herd that disappeared 400 years previously to escape Nightwing’s first appearance:

“Redfire, who hailed from the desert, spoke. ‘Our legends say that the Lake Herd pegasi fled Anok when Nightwing became the Destroyer four hundred years ago. That they escaped.’” (p. 19)

Now, for those who have not had enough flying, talking horses, Alvarez’s The Guardian Herd website (aimed at teenage girls) promises a spinoff trilogy, Dark Water Trials, beginning in August 2017, that tells what had happened to the Lake Herd. The pegasi led by Echofrost flee the war in Anok to a new continent, where they encounter Landwalkers (humans).

See you in August!

– Fred Patten



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