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Wind Rider

Wind Rider

4.7 12
by Susan Williams

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Fern dreams of riding on a wild horse's back, as fleet as the wind. She makes pets of small animals and watches the bison herds as they pound over the endless grasses of the steppe. Chafing at the inequality of being female, she longs for the freedom her twin brother enjoys to run free in the wilderness. One day in early spring, Fern secretly rescues a young horse


Fern dreams of riding on a wild horse's back, as fleet as the wind. She makes pets of small animals and watches the bison herds as they pound over the endless grasses of the steppe. Chafing at the inequality of being female, she longs for the freedom her twin brother enjoys to run free in the wilderness. One day in early spring, Fern secretly rescues a young horse mired in the bog, names her Thunder, and tames her enough to ride. But the people of her tribe are distrustful of her bond with nature. Is she a witch? Fern's future looks bleak until a silent man in a rival tribe, known only as The Nameless One, teaches her about patience—and love.

Susan Williams's lyrical prose makes this journey to prehistoric western Asia at once inspiring and heart wrenching.

Editorial Reviews

KLIATT - Claire Rosser
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, November 2006: How were horses first tamed? Williams says this novel telling of a prehistoric girl capturing and taming a wild horse could be considered science fiction, since looking back into prehistory is about the same as looking forward into the future we don't know. She has used what facts she could determine from anthropologists, archaeologists and other scientists to create a story set about 6,000 years ago in what is now Kazakhstan. The family group Fern lives in knows about horses: they are hunted and eaten; no one has thought to tame them. Fern is a person close to animals, and when she encounters a young horse trapped in a bog, she intuitively finds ways to gentle her by providing food and water until she frees her from the bog and finds a shelter for her, away from other people. Slowly she figures out how to get on the horse's back to ride. Eventually, she reveals this to her people, who are afraid and must be persuaded not to kill Thunder for food—she must show them how a horse can make their lives easier by hauling possessions as they move from place to place. Then, they discover how riding Thunder gives them an advantage in hunting fast-moving game. These details are marvelously developed, and all animal lovers (never mind horse lovers!) will hang on every part of this process. The story is more than this, however. Fern and her twin brother have a complicated relationship that adds greatly to the plot. Also, a young man in their clan wants to marry Fern, mostly because he wants her horse; when she and her family resist him, he becomes dangerous. Fern and Thunder are eventually captured by another group of people withdifferent gods. The contrast of cultures is fascinating, as is the suspense of reading about Fern's fate. Williams has made her characters, so unlike modern people, into wholly realized human beings we care about. She has succeeded in telling a riveting story about a basic relationship between human and animal—humans domesticating wild creatures. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
Set in prehistoric western Asia six thousand years ago, author Williams weaves a compelling and credible story about how the first horses might have come to be domesticated. Fern has always had an uncanny affinity with all living things and especially a persistent fascination with wild horses. She risks her life to rescue a young mare trapped in a deadly bog and tames her, in secret, until Thunder allows Fern to ride on her back as swiftly as the wind. At first Fern's people fear her "bewitchment" of Thunder but then come to welcome the transformation that Thunder and her progeny bring to their nomadic way of life. Fern's resistance to sexism ("Why did men get to do all the exciting and important things while women were left with the boring, dirty jobs?") seems somewhat anachronistic; even more so, her twin brother's gradual willingness to recognize her as his hunting equal. But Williams quietly and masterfully traces Fern's difficult relationship with her mother, who sometimes regrets her decision to keep both twins at birth, and love for her darling Little Brother, who cannot be named until his third birthday because so many young children die in their first three years. Most of all, Williams makes vivid Fern's deep and abiding connection with her beloved horse and the harsh beauty of Fern's world.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-In prehistoric Western Asia, horses are seen as a source of food and nothing else. However, Fern, who has always had an affinity for animals, is about to change that perception. When she discovers a young mare caught in a bog, she figures out how to rescue and befriend her, and eventually how to ride her. Slowly, she convinces her tribe how invaluable horses could be as their companions and helpers rather than as mere prey. Fern gains the support of her grandmother, her teasing-but-loving twin brother, and her strong, warrior father. She and the horse become objects of fascination but also somewhat of fear in the tribe. In the meantime, a suitor, Badger, is determined to have her as his wife. He looks like a great catch but is actually a bully, further complicating her life. She finds love with an outcast from another tribe who has great healing powers and a kind heart. The story line and characters are fairly predictable. Only Fern seems multifaceted; Badger is mean, and grandmother is wise, but otherwise their characters are undeveloped. Still, a tale about the first taming of a horse may interest lovers of these animals, and Fern's human dilemmas along the way may keep them reading.-Carol Schene, formerly at Taunton Public Schools, MA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Theories of the domestication of the horse are varied and fascinating. This historical fiction is not. Williams very loosely places her protagonist, Fern, in the Eurasian steppes in 4000 b.c. with her nomadic family. Horses are only eaten by her people, so when she tames one, she keeps it a secret. You know the rest: Horse is discovered; Fern gets in trouble; horse proves its merit. Williams sprinkles the story with intriguing tidbits of daily life, some of which seem to have a basis in research, but many of which may be her self-proclaimed, "elaborate fabrications." If she had done so more convincingly, she might still have redeemed this effort. Though Fern does not have a word for peeing ("I did not really need to return my body's water to Earth Mother, but I had to get away"), she manages to invent the word "ride" ("A word came into my mind"), not having noticed that the author has been using that word for pages already. This, from the character who goes on to invent trotting, galloping, the bridle, the bit and the hobble. Horse lovers may attempt to slog through it anyway, but likely won't get past the cover. (Historical fiction. 9-13)

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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Wind Rider

By Susan Williams

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Susan Williams
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060872373

Chapter One


"Where are you going, Fern?" Grandmother croaked in her dried-up-spider voice. "You fed that bird twice this afternoon already."

I sighed and rolled my eyes. Sometimes I could sneak away without Grandmother knowing, but other times she seemed to feel with her spirit the empty place where I had been. Old and blind she might be, but she was still one of the best workers in our ahne. Even as she asked the question, she cleaned and hung yet another fish, ignoring the stink and the smoke that made my throat close up and my eyes water. She moved like a branch that dips, bends, and dips again in the endless current of the river.

"Xj'i sah," I answered crossly. I did not really need to return my body's water to Earth Mother, but I had to get away. I paused a moment at our shelter to stroke the neck feathers of my baby crow, who was perched in the shady nest I had made for him between the cross poles. I had found him a few days before, under a tree, with his mouth wide open, showing me his red, hungry insides. My mother wanted to put him in the stewpot, but instead I fed him scraps of fish and named him Black.

It felt bad to lie to Grandmother, but not as bad as being stuck cleaning fish while my brother played in the river. I was supposed to be splitting fish--thumbing their guts into a heap, and sticking them on racks to cure in the sunand the smoke from our fires. After the snow melts, the first warm rains bring suckers swarming up the rivers in slippery herds. It is not such a large run as that of the salmon in the fall, or as tasty, but it is food. The five families of our ahne would be busy for several days.

Ahne means hand. I like to think about that. We move over the steppe, gathering what we can to feed our own life. When winter storms would swallow us, we go into the Earth herself, to the shelter of our pit houses. So ahne also means a group of families that travel together during the warm months, joined together like the fingers of a gathering hand.

It is strange how I remember everything about that afternoon. My mother, Moss, and her friend Rain sat talking together in the shade of our hut, each nursing a baby. Our Little Brother was teething. "Hush now, or the Night People will hear and steal you away," Rain scolded him. "They might be hiding in the bushes this very moment."

"Do not say such a thing!" my mother answered sharply. I saw her glance over her shoulder. The Night People live beyond the place where the sun sets. They are horrible. When Moss was a girl, a group of hunters from our ahne found her. She was hiding under the burned skins of her family's shelter--a bundle of bones with staring eyes. Everyone else was dead or stolen. For many days she could not even tell them her name.

Over in the river, some boys splashed beside the men who were catching fish in hemp nets. I could see my brother Young Flint looking into the water behind each rock, trying to spear a fish. It was too cold this early to wade very long, but boys want to spear something alive instead of an old skin target.

In many ways Flint and I are as different as the sun and the earth, yet like them as connected. He is not just my brother but my twin. We were the only twins in all the ahnes. Sometimes people whispered about us.

Choices, excitement, and honor lay ahead for Flint. I, on the other hand, would no sooner find blood running between my legs than I would be packed off to begin growing babies, tending pots, and scraping skins for some young man as reckless and stupid as my brother, who, like him, would not listen to anything I had to say. It was a black thought, yet when Flint yelled, raising his spear with a flopping fish on the end of it, I could not help grinning and calling out, "Good--it is a big one!"

I might have gone to the river's edge to laugh at my brother slipping and falling like a person who has drunk from a skin of fermented berry juice, but I was sick from fish stink, and I was sure I had hung enough suckers for ten summers' use. Besides, I told myself, they will forgive me when I bring home a basketful of fern sprouts.

Snatching an empty gathering basket from behind the tent, I started off. I heard my dog, Bark, get up and pad softly along behind me. Once away from the camp, Bark and I raced across the grassland to the clump of willows that marked the edge of the bog. We stopped in their cool shade, panting.

The bog lies where the river once curved like the print of a horse's hoof. When my father, Old Flint, was a boy, a great storm led the river to find a shorter path, where it runs today. The ferns for which I am named can be found in the wet place that was left behind. Later in the season they would grow almost as high as my head, but now, all the way to the edges of the world, the steppe was barely touched with green. Earth Mother seemed to yawn and stretch, like a girl just waking up. Toads trilled and these same ferns were curled tight, like a baby's fist.

With the stench of fish behind me, my stomach growled at the thought of fern sprouts. I love them best boiled with a bit of fat melting over them. They are my favorite springtime food. When the land is frozen white and hard, and we wonder if it will ever be warm again, my mouth waters just thinking about them. In the season's first bellyful, I can almost feel the spirit of the plants uncurling inside me, green with life.


Excerpted from Wind Rider by Susan Williams Copyright © 2006 by Susan Williams. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Susan Williams writes stories for young readers because "when I was a kid, books meant everything to me." She loves visiting schools and libraries to talk about writing and to run writers' workshops. Susan Williams lives with her husband, two daughters, and many pets in the wilds of western New York.

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Wind Rider 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Keith Hale More than 1 year ago
Well written, exciting, and full of realistic wmotions. When the people wanted to eat Thunder I felt the desperation of Fern and the sacrafices she was willing to make for her people. Bark is a charming charcter. This book is about true courage and determination.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That's ok.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I know this was only fiction. It was such an interesting way of suggesting how the horse came to be such valuble animal. Enjoyed it very much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Riverkit peeked into the empty nursery. He sighed and walked away, feeling lonely. =Riverkit=
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author came to our school last year and this is a good book.
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maxx310 More than 1 year ago
This book was good enough because i enjoyed it but i felt that some of the stuff was unrealistic that was supposed to be real.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What I liked best about this book is that anyone can relate to it--not just kids who have riding lessons and horses--because we all have roots in prehistory. I loved thinking about how the first horse might have been domesticated. I don't ever remember reading about it anywhere else.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wind Rider is a beautifully written book about a teenage girl's kinship with nature and her special bond to a horse. I liked how Susan William's made the character of Fern strong-willed and she wasn't ready to conform to her ahne's (¿a group of families that travel together during the warm months¿) beliefs of what women are expected to do. She tamed a wild horse, Thunder, and risked being shunned and thought to practice witchcraft by her people, including her own mother. The book was rich with details that transported my mind to prehistoric Western Asia and I really got a feel of what life was like for people living back then.