I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Updraft by Fran Wilde
Published by Tor Books on September 1 2015
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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The nitty-gritty: A unique and many-layered world that left me craving more world-building details, but contained some of the coolest fantasy elements I’ve read in a long time.
We had so many ways to describe different types of wind. Lifts. Crosses. Constants. Gaps. I might one day hear them all.
Something low and large echoed ahead of me. The closest tower? Varu. The wind swept over the shape, slowly, then ripped around the higher towers beside it, whistling. Far beyond, Lith lurked, broken and forlorn. I knew it was there, though I couldn’t hear it, because nothing else sounded so empty in the entire city.
Updraft is one of the most unique fantasies I’ve read in quite some time, and despite some plot and world-building elements that were a bit confusing, I enjoyed it immensely. Fran Wilde has created a world in which everything feels unfamiliar, and so in the beginning I was struggling to latch on to something that I could relate to. But it didn’t take long before the story of Kirit’s journey to become a Singer took hold and pulled me in. Updraft has all the elements I love: intrigue, danger, action, consequences for actions and emotional human connections, set against a backdrop that I’m dying to know more about. I’m not sure if this is the beginning of series, but it sure felt like it, and I hope Wilde gets the chance to write more about this world. As interesting as the world-building was, I was left with a feeling that there is so much more that the author hasn’t told us. But I’ll get to that later.
Kirit is a young girl who lives above the clouds in the tower of Densira, one of many towers made of living bone that make up the City. Kirit is about to take her wingtest, a rite of passage that will grant her access to the skies as a trader, flying from tower to tower and bringing needed goods and food to the citizens of the City. But on the day of the test, she unexpectedly fails, and instead, finds herself taken away from her home to live and train in the Spire, the tallest tower of the City, where people known as Singers keep the other towers safe from the lethal skymouths, invisible monsters who prowl the skies.
Kirit misses her home and her mother, and hates the dark enclosed spaces of the Spire, longing for the open skies and the freedom of flight. But a brewing rebellion in the lowest levels of the Spire makes Kirit realize that the truth she grew up with is not necessarily what’s really going on in the City, and she vows to set things right. That is, if she can stay alive long enough to reveal the Spire’s secrets.
One of the cool things about this story was the way people get around in this world. They fly on currents of air on hand-made contraptions similar to hang gliders (as you can see on the book cover). Wilde goes into great detail about how hard it is to learn to fly this way, the years of training that they must go through before they are ready to pass their “wingtest” and become contributing members of society. Equally hard to master are the air and wind currents that flyers rely on to get from one tower to another. I loved the author’s descriptions of the subtleties of wind and how each flyer learns to adapt to them.
As far as the characters go, several of them stood out for me. I loved Kirit’s spunk and determination to follow her heart and do what she thinks is right, while staying true to her family and friends. She’s one of those characters who dives into something before she’s fully thought things out, which often leads to trouble. Some of my other favorite characters were twins Moc and Ciel, who Kirit meets when she goes to live in the Spire, and Wik, the Singer who first realizes Kirit’s ability to stop the skymouths. Many of the characters, including Kirit’s mother Ezarit, didn’t get enough page time, in my opinion, to make them truly fleshed-out characters, but hopefully that will be rectified in the next book.
Although the community of the City seems peaceful and carefree in the beginning of the story, there is a dark heart to this tale. The City, which consists of living towers of bone, sometimes rumbles and shakes, and the people then feel the need to offer up sacrifices in order to keep the City happy. And “sacrifice” in this case means flinging “lawsbreakers” over the edge towards the clouds far below. Along those same lines, acolytes at the Spire must engage in a battle to the death in order to win their Singer wings. It’s a harsh and brutal world despite the feeling of freedom that citizens experience when they fly.
If I had to compare the community of Updraft to something, I would have to say it reminded me a bit of an Amish society—a closed group of people with their own rules and social structure, whose lives are fairly simple and based on strict traditions. Anyone caught breaking the rules is marked with a bracelet of bone markers, which tell others in the community which laws have been broken. Wilde’s writing style mimics this idea as well. Her sentences are mostly short and to the point, with very little flourish, a style that works perfectly with her story.
So it’s unfortunate that one of my favorite story elements, the skymouths, was also the one that gave me the most trouble. I love the concept: invisible monsters who move through the air unseen, eating anything that gets in their way, including flyers. But I could never fully image what the skymouths looked like. They are described as having huge mouths with sharp teeth, but they also have tentacles—like an octopus, perhaps??—that reach out and grab their prey. The image that comes to mind is more laughable than terrifying, and so I was never really scared of them. Plus, if they are invisible, why can people see their huge mouths full of teeth opening up in the middle of the sky? Because I could never make sense of them, my mind screeched to a halt every time they appeared in the story, and it slowed things down for me. There are some really cool things about the skymouths that I won’t tell you, so as not to spoil things, I just wished I could have envisioned them better.
The other world-building element that I loved was the bone towers, but again, I didn’t have enough information to fully enjoy them. The bone is continuously growing, but what are the towers connected to? Is there an even bigger presence beneath the clouds controlling their growth? I was also confused by the number of towers that make up the City. The author only mentions a few of them, yet I sensed the scope of this world was so much bigger. My inquiring mind wanted more, and if Wilde is leaving the answers to these questions for the next book, then you can bet I’ll be reading it.
There is so much more to talk about with Updraft, but this review is already over my normal word count, so I’m going to leave you, the reader, to discover the rest on your own. For lovers of completely unique fantasy worlds, this is one book that should be on your TBR list for sure, and despite some of the confusing story elements, I can recommend this book without hesitation.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.