Updraft by Fran Wilde

It’s been awhile since I’ve re-written, honed, revamped, etc. a blogpost so much. I think this is coherent. I should’ve just probably put up the publisher’s description and said “Read it, it’s special.”

UpdraftUpdraft

by Fran Wilde
Hardcover, 362 pg.
Tor, 2015
Read: October 15 – 17, 2015

I don’t normally do this, but let me start with the Publisher’s Description:
In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn’t destroyed outright.

You know how (if historical fiction I read/watched as a kid taught me anything), fathers used to throw their kids into a creek/river/lake to teach them to swim? That’s pretty much how I felt about Wilde’s treatment of readers: just throw us in, and if we make it out of the first chapter, we’ve learned how to swim. Sometimes that approach works, sometimes it doesn’t — Wilde pulled it off. Like with Uprooted earlier this year, I just want to hang out in this world for a while, it’s so rich. I actually don’t want to live in it (unlike, say, the Tufa’s land), between my acrophobia and aviophobia, I’d be a wreck (at best). But I want to keep reading about this world.

Honestly, this is such a rich world, I’m tempted to talk about it for this entire post — the feel, the history — both myth/legend and what really happened — it’s so rich and real-feeling. We get hints at the economics of the place, the values, history, but just hints. Just enough to make you know that there’s something there. Honestly? I think I prefer not knowing, just being teased when it comes to this world. Can’t forget about the skymouths — these very, very, very strange predators at work here — I don’t know when I’ve last read something so strange. The way that Wilde writes flying is just great, it’s the literary equivalent of the original Christopher Reeve flying scenes. You buy it, you feel it, you want to do it (or you’re filled with paralyzing fear at the idea).

But, obviously, I’m not going to talk about the worldbuilding for the whole post, or I wouldn’t have said that. As great a creation that it is, it’d be nothing without the people and the story. We’ve glanced at the story, so what about the people?

Kirit has ambition, drive — she wants to fly with her mother and trade between with towers, and that’s pretty much it. A nice, happy, well-off life. When that’s thwarted (at least temporarily), she pushes back against the inevitable until she’s convinced that it’s the best option; there’s a little coercion involved, but not entirely. Her best friend, Nat, is similarly driven — but where Kirit is forward focused, all Nat wants are answers about the past. The question for their relationship becomes: can it last when the two have such divergent goals?

In the Spire, there are three main figures that she interacts with, learns from, and is shaped by. There’s Rumul, who’s been calling the shots in the Spire (and therefore the city) for so long that both he and everyone else have a hard time thinking there’s another option. Wik is the Singer who started her trouble, and realized her true potential, and is responsible for her fulfilling that potential. Sellis is her contemporary, who can’t believe that her future is tied to this novitiate doing well.

There’s a couple of younger twins — Moc and Ciel — that are of invaluable help to Kirit as she adjusts to her new reality — every time I read about them I saw WilyKit and WilyKat from the original Thundercats. And honestly I don’t think that’s too far off. There’s Sidra, who might as well be named Nellie Oleson — we don’t spend as much time with her overall as it appears we will at the beginning. I wouldn’t have minded a little more time — but I’m glad we didn’t get too much of her.

Looming over everything are Kirit’s and Nat’s mothers, Ezarit and Elna, and the shadows of their absent fathers. I wish we’d been able to see more of these mothers in action, get to see them being as wonderful as Kirit says they are (assuming she’s right). I understand why we don’t get to see that, why we just have to learn about it, but still, it’d have been nice. And we have to assume that Kirit’s appraisal of them is correct, but that’s probably easy to do.

Each of these characters (and others I don’t want to bog this down further with) are so well drawn, fully fleshed-out, that half of them (if not more) could be edited out and this would still be a compelling read. There are so many overlapping, competing, contradictory, at cross-purposes, motives, plans, hopes that it’s easy to see why any character (particularly young and unknowing) characters would be confused and unsure what to do. Maybe even sure what to do, for a time, and then seeing how they’d been used/mistaken. How often do you get something like that?

This isn’t a YA book, but it’s totally appropriate for that audience, and in many ways it aligns with YA stories/interests — Hunger Games, Divergent, or Red Rising fans will find a lot of the same themes at work. But don’t go into this looking for something like them, you’ll be disappointed. Especially if you’re looking for a love triangle — or any romantic storyline at all.

I saw on Goodreads that Wilde said this was written as a stand-alone, but that there are two sequels coming. This is one of those books that I don’t think needs a sequel, we got a good complete story here — but I’m going to be in line for it. A great piece of worldbuilding, a compelling story and some characters you want to spend time with — Updraft has it all.

—–

4 Stars

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