PROS: Vivid rendering of an amazingly inventive world; believable web of secrets, lies and loyalties tells a satisfactorily complicated tale; novel tells a completely self contained story.
CONS: Deep exploration of Kirit leaves some of the other characters rendered somewhat less well by contrast.
BOTTOM LINE: A debut novel with a wonderful fantasy setting and protagonist.
Bone towers reach high into the sky and deep secrets and lies abound in Fran Wilde’s fantasy debut featuring would be flyer Kirit.
The city of bone towers that Kirit lives in has a New Weird aesthetic and sensibility, with its tall towers of living bone rising out of the murky, deadly gloom that lies below the clouds. The inhabitants of these towers survive on carefully designated networks of trade, flying between the towers on wings and over the bridges that have been woven between nearby towers. Flying is glorious, amazing, and, predictably, dangerous: fly too low and one might plunge into the deadly murk and gloom that lies beneath the clouds. And then there are the skymouths, flying camouflaged predators who are dangerous to flyers and inhabitants of the towers.
Flying, however, is what Kirit wants to do more than anything. No matter the risks, the glory and amazement of soaring through the skies is where Kirit’s heart lies. A transgression on her part, however, leads her into the tentacles of The Spire, the set-apart central tower whose scions keep the peace and the law, along with some dangerous secrets.
The complicated bonds of loyalty and secrets that Kirit finds herself enmeshed is as strong as the novel’s unusual setting. Kirit is faced with hard bargains and choices which she has to navigate often only on feel rather than anything else, and these revelations all combine to develop and grow Kirit in fascinating unexpected ways. Kirit’s loyalty and inner strength, and even her flaws, make her a protagonist to root for.
The novel is less effective in execution when it comes to its secondary characters. Kirit is such a strong, well defined character, with very real challenges, that the other characters suffer somewhat by comparison. However, a tight first person perspective gives the reader a very deep look into Kirit; who she is and wants to be, and who she is ultimately forced to become.
The language of the novel is evocative and atmospheric, invoking the culture and mindset of a civilization living on the tops of towers effectively by using metaphor, resulting in soaring prose. While the early history of how this tower civilization came about isn’t the remit of the novel, the language and word choices make it clear, as much as the plot and culture, that the people here have been doing this for a very long time indeed.
The story of Updraft is very well self contained, even as I understand that there is a sequel in the works. Readers can be assured that the story in Updraft has the promise of the future, but closes off in a satisfactory manner. Updraft marks a strong novel debut from the author. I look forward to reading what worlds and characters Wilde brings forth from her keyboard next, be it in the City or elsewhere.