Flying above the clouds with “Updraft”

UpdraftUpdraft by Fran Wilde
Tor Books: September 1st, 2015 (Fantasy)*

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Outstanding Adventure!

There’s so much to love about this thrilling fantasy above the clouds.

Built out of bone towers, layered in secrets, Kirit Densira’s city is rife with tension. How the city came to be, and how the bone towers came to be necessary, is never really explained. It just is. The skies are dangerous. Skymouths are invisible, huge wormlike creatures (at least, that’s how I imagined them) that swallow people whole. When there is a migration of the creatures, they can devastate whole towers. The bone towers grow on their own, solidifying from the center outward as they rise – making dwelling on the lower levels uncomfortable, and the very lowest levels uninhabitable. There is a mystical/spiritual element to the world: magic and mysticism are the forces behind the growth of the towers, and the city (the bone) is perceived a sentient being. Like many early civilizations, human sacrifice is used to appease the city when it grows troubled.

Citizens use crafted wings to get from tower to tower where the bone has not been encouraged to grow bridges. Kirit is a young woman on the verge of getting her wings – literally. She and her childhood friend are days away from taking the test that will allow them to fly to other towers within and even outside the city. When she stays outside on the balcony of her home to watch her mother fly away on a trading mission, a dreaded skymouth, attracted by the reflection on her telescope, takes it as an invitation to eat her. In that moment, she breaks a law and comes to the attention of the Singers – the law enforcers, protectors, and secret-keepers of the city.

The consequences of her misstep change Kirit’s life initially, and eventually take the entire city toward a different destiny. Once she learns the secrets hidden within the dark Spire, the home of the mysterious and silent Singers, she discovers a city unlike the one she thought she knew. And realizes that the history she learned in the towers is only a part of the whole truth about the city and its past.

Kirit is not a Chosen One. She is talented, yes, but her struggles define the novel. She rebels at first against the new course of her life and struggles to learn to become a Singer when she can no longer avoid it. In the Spire, she passionately and angrily questions the culture that has cost her so much. Her loyalty to her friends and family, and her sense of justice motivate her. I cheered for Kirit as she struggled to overcome the internal, societal, and political challenges that she faced. She feels the pain of her actions, and of the actions of others around her, and is marked by the results of her choices.

Every supporting character is fully realized, with their own motivations and emotions. Her mother is the distant, intelligent, and skilled trader as seen through Kirit’s eyes. Her friendship with her childhood friend is stressed when her actions have consequences for him, too. The placid, caring woman who nearly raised Kirit has depths the young Kirit cannot perceive until she discovers some of the secrets the city holds.

The world-building and the physics and engineering research that went into describing the flying scenes really bring this book to life. The descriptions of flying! Never, even with the detailed world-building and technical descriptions, does the story pause for an infodump. They seamlessly work together, so that understanding the “how” of the flying bolsters the action and makes it feel more immediate.

The plot, too, pulses with action: Kirit fighting against her new role in the city, struggling to learn the ways and secrets of the Spire, discovering the secrets of the towers, being separated from her friends and family, and defending a city she never understood until her life changed. The secrets themselves were enough to keep me interested, and with all the rest of it – I was glued to this book until I finished it.

This is a truly fantastic tale, and I highly recommend it to fantasy fans.

*Advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Similar Reads

Kirit’s struggles to fit in and find her place while rejecting the traditions and rules forced on her by society remind me of Alanna. If you enjoyed Kirit’s tale, and haven’t yet read about Alanna of Trebond, do. The difference? The Song of the Lioness series is YA.

Sand of Bone combines magical and dark world-building with history that directly affects the events that occur as the story unfolds.

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