BWW Review: UPDRAFT by Fran Wilde
"You're new. Everything in the Spire is old and always happens up down up down. You came in sideways."
UPDRAFT by Fran Wilde was so different from anything I've read in terms of world-building. Bith this and THE QUEEN OF BLOOD by Sarah Beth Durst are tied for the most unique worlds I've read this recently. They're so far beyond the realm of imagination, and yet the worlds also WORK. That's the magic of fantasy, right?
Imagine a world where there are so many dangers in the world (perhaps our own?) that we must climb--up, up, above the clouds, into the sky. How would we survive? The people of the Bone Universe not just survive, but thrive. They live in towers that are living, breathing entities in their own right. They use recycled soil to grow food, have spider farms to generate clothing, and have learned how to fly.
Kirit is about to take her wing test and earn her wings as UPDRAFT opens. She has been studying and even though she's not the best flyer, nor even a decent singer, she's determined to pass the test. Only by earning her wings can she take on an apprenticeship and join her mother as a Trader. However, Kirit is caught outside the tower and almost eaten by a skymouth. She and her mother are punished for her transgressions, though Kirit is asked to become a Singer and leave her mother and her tower to live in the Spire and help the City. Kirit, however, wants the life she's always envisioned for herself. After her wing test is jeopardized and she's caught breaking more rules at night, Kirit has no choice: Become a Singer or be disgraced. Live or die. She chooses to live, even though it means learning about a life that's foreign to her, one where she started training as a child. The longer Kirit lives in the Spire, the more she begins learning dangerous secrets that threaten to destroy the life the city has built for itself should they ever become exposed...
I really liked the world-building in UPDRAFT, and the way Wilde thought of an entire eco-system when creating her city. I also wish we could all fly the way everyone does in this world--much as I wanted to be able to watch a dragon after watching How to Train Your Dragon. The world and its nuances became even more nuanced once we were introduced to the world of the Spire. I had a bit of trouble envisioning the scope of the world (Much as I did with THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, actually!), but that's just because I'm not personally great at thinking about rules and worlds so different from my own. So I'm sure that in my head, they're nothing like they should be, but they're what I could wrap my mind around! I also was totally envisioning the dangerous skymouths as those dinosaurs with really long necks (Horrible, I know...I forget what they're called...and I'm pretty sure they were herbivores, anyway....?), even though I'm sure that's 100% wrong.
If you're looking for a fantasy romance, you're reading the wrong book. There's absolutely none in this novel, though I certainly wished for a little between a couple of characters. But it still worked! And a lot of the time, we complain that there's too much focus on romance in our fantasy novels and too little on the world, so readers will rejoice to get their wish in UPDRAFT. The book is technically shelved in adult fantasy, but it won awards such as the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult SFF, so it has crossover appeal and can be read by all ages.
While UPDRAFT reads as a stand-alone, you really want more of this world and these characters at the end of the book! Luckily, tgere are two companion novels, CLOUDBOUND and the recently-released HORIZON. I'm not ready to let go of Kirit yet. However, the new main character in CLOIDBOUND is one we've met before, so I know we'll see some more of her. I'm excited to dive in and see what happens next!
UPDRAFT by Fran Wilde was first published by Tor Books on September 1, 2015.