I just so happened to see this book for free as recommended by another author, and that beautiful cover convinced me to give it a try.
Boy, am I ever so glad I did! I've never heard of this author, but he is AWESOME.
The desert atmosphere is so vivid, the action is intense, the characters are excellent, all important qualities to tell a good story, and a good story this is. It follows the journey of a sixteen year old girl determined to prove that a woman can also join a special sect of her people known as the windwalkers--protectors of the land who bond with and ride upon incredible sentient raptors.
So it seems like a straightforward YA plot, right? Young girl stands up against a male-dominant society to prove she is strong. Typically, that means she is oppressed by all males (maybe tolerated by a boyfriend) because all males are awful. Well, Kiva certainly faces the outrage and danger of angered traditionalists, but she is hardly without support from both men and women.
But this book throws away some common tropes. Kiva actually has living parents who support her. Initially, she thinks in typical teenage immaturity that there's no way her family would understand or would help, but she finds out she's wrong. She finds out her "overbearing" mother is actually a strong woman who loves her fiercely. That her dad is proud. She has two brothers who also love her (even if they have mixed feelings about her boldness). There are disagreements and struggles in the family, but they are FAMILY and they will stand by one another. This incredible and highly rare example of family strength and love is one thing I love in this book.
Another thing I love is Jonah. A highly talented young windwalker who immediately sees that if it's possible for a girl to become a windwalker--then heck yeah, she should be trained! There is an oncoming threat, and he sees in her something special. He doesn't hesitate to begin training her in secret and takes quite a bit of joy and pride in seeing her succeed. He's such a dear...charming, impish, confident in his own strength and skill but never once trying to lord himself over Kiva.
Kiva is not a soft girl in the slightest--she is fierce--but she is definitely female and relatable. Her temper can sometimes get the best of her, but she usually realizes if she made a mistake once she cools down. And hurrah for character growth, she actually learns to hold her tongue a few times when her outrage makes her want to shout at the wrong people.
The kiraeen (the bird/dragon/griffin creatures) in this book are another delight. The flying scenes are so epic, and once a bond is struck, the rider and creature share each other's thoughts, leading to some humorous interactions.
This is clean YA fiction, perfect for girls or boys. And I love the fact that it was written by a male author...his respect and admiration for female strength in this story is honestly a bit humbling. :)
(also what is it with male authors and their ability to write exhilarating action scenes, I am so jealous.)