Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!
Synopsis: Kirit Densira lives with her Trader mother in the Towers - skyscrapers made of live, organic bone, which pulse and grow. The City is alive, and the Traders are some of the most powerful and free of its denizens, below only the Singers, whose word is final, and whose wings, songs, and glass knives keep the City safe from the invisible sky-monsters which hunt its citizens. Densira Tower, once thought unlucky, has grown two tiers higher since Kirit's mother, Ezarit, has brought it prosperity through her daring flights and trades between other towers. There is safety in height - and in keeping to one's own Tower. Ezarit is well spoken of, for trading necessary medicines between the Towers and changing the way things are done, and Kirit longs to be just like her.
Kirit wants nothing more than this - just to walk her mother's path as a flyer and a trader. Once she passes her wing-test, she, too, will contribute to the luck and prosperity of their tower. But, days before her wingtest, her mother leaves on an urgent mission, and Kirit, loathe to see her go, bends the Tower Law and stays to watch her go. In a moment of inattention, everything changes -- one of the monsters the Towers all fear attacks. Kirit's screams of terror change everything. Suddenly her life is no longer the straight line planned, from wing-tested apprentice to Trader, partner at her mother's side. Suddenly, she's pulled between the tower and the Spire; between the bright world of sky and air, and the closed-in world, gray world of the Singers. Losing everything, Kirit decides to save herself -- and finds truths about her family, the City's past, and the secretive and terrifying Singers that change the way she sees everything. But those truths aren't hers to tell - and those secrets may destroy everything.
Observations: This is, in basic, surface ways, a huge adventure story of a Chosen One who finds out Big Secrets and with the help of the underdogs and the overlooked, saves her city and those she loves. It's a familiar story, easy to lose oneself in and stay happy. It's also a deep and complex story of power brokering, trades and betrayal - a story about secrets, and the lengths to which we sometimes go to keep them, about power and absolute power. It's also a story about loving one's family, in spite of everything, and that's a story we know very well. So, on the surface, despite its being a new story entirely, UPDRAFT has plenty that will feel familiar to the reader.
The worldbuilding in this story is superbly detailed and thought out, which makes sense, since more than one book will hang on this framework. Though the novel spent a lot of time setting this world in place, I found myself with more questions than the book answered: what were the bones made of? Why were people going blind from the sun, or having breathing problems - what is inimical in the atmosphere that affects humans so? Are the people in the City entirely human? The protagonist is, from the cornrowed hair she sports on both covers, a person of color, but there's not detail about this in the book, at all. Where did her people come from? How did they get into the bones? And, the bones of ...what? If the bones are organic and still growing... where's the rest of the body? What is it, down below on the planet surface (Earth? Or what planet is it?) that's worse than what's above the people, the invisible monsters? I found myself with more prosaic questions, too - the people ate mostly birds and what they could grow from small gardens - but I wondered where they got their water, and how. Details like this (mainly because I've been playing a simulation video game called Cities: Skylines and have started to dream about water pipes and adequate power plants) tend to distract me a little - but not too much.
Conclusion: UPDRAFT is Fran Wilde's first whole novel, after plenty of short story writing in the speculative fiction universe. Her characters are unique and apparently diverse; her writing chops are strong. The characterization in the novel has an air of familiarity to it which provides an absorbing and comfortable narrative, - as comforting as most Heroine's Journey books tend to be. It is adventurous and exciting, and there were so many more details I wished to have! I hope to find more answers in the sequel (CLOUDBOUND, 9/2016) to come. As it stands, UPDRAFT had a sufficiently satisfying beginning, middle, and end, and despite the sequel, reads well as a standalone. Still - the good news is, there's more to anticipate.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the library! You can find UPDRAFT by FRAN WILDE at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!