First of all: Don Maitz cover. Wonderful.
The Wind-Witch is Druyan, whose life as a farmer’s wife has been fairly ordinary aside from the small fact of her ability to whistle up a wind or redirect a storm. This ability she has kept quiet, even from her husband, magic not being terribly well looked-upon. The only other extraordinary aspect to this simple and good life is the rather small black horse Druyan discovered one day; as no one came forward to claim him, he was, by default, hers, and whatever she suspects about his extreme uniqueness is, again, kept to herself. It is, of course, Valadan, immortal Warhorse of Esdragon (“of course” because the book is “The Warhorse of Esdragon, Book 2”), and he is anything but ordinary.
“Ordinary” is turned upside-down when the sea raiders begin to come, killing and plundering as sea raiders always do, and the local lord calls for troops – including Druyan’s husband – to try to fend them off. In shockingly short order, Druyan is widowed, left alone with a tiny group of very young and very old female servants to try to maintain the farm – and to do something about the wounded raider, Kellis, her husband captured and locked in the root cellar just before he left. In many ways it turns out just as well that of the several raiders who were put in there only Kellis remains – the others dug their way out and left him to die. But he didn’t die, and though he might find death preferable to surviving as Druyan’s prisoner and indentured servant, he heals. Trust slowly, cautiously grows between them as she discovers that, in many more ways than one, he is not your typical raider.
This could have been the setup for a completely generic fantasy romance – but it was written by Susan Dexter, and that is not what Susan Dexter does. (Did.) The trust between the two of them is hard won, and goes little further – the elderly woman servant certainly never trusts Kellis as far as she would a rabid dog. But all he wants is to fulfill his obligation to Druyan, work out the year they agreed upon which will help her keep the farm, and then leave for parts unknown. All Druyan wants is to keep her farm and see peace return to the countryside. It’s frequently doubtful that either of them will get their wishes.
As always, Valadan is beautifully drawn. And as always, so are the humans; they evade the usual pigeonholes fantasy characters have a tendency to slot into, and give every indication that they have full and complete lives before, after, and beyond what the story tells. The story is (as always) excellently well told, with unexpected twists and turns and a perfectly satisfying ending. It’s yet another reason to mourn the lack of books by Susan Dexter over the last ten years.