Updraft (Bone Universe #1)
by Fran Wilde.
In a city high above the clouds, Kirit dreams of finally earning her wings. Flyers are the lifeblood of the city, and she longs to be a trader alongside her mother. A breach of the city’s rules, however, sees her instead conscripted into the Singers, the secretive governing body. She discovers that not only is there more to the city and its history than she’s been taught, but there’s more to her own history (and abilities) than she imagined as well. A dangerous secret and divides with the Singers’ Spire itself lead Kirit to a fork in the road: do what’s smart, or do what’s right.
This was an interesting read. It’s not the first book I’ve read centering on a city in the clouds where flying on artificial wings is the main transport (see Windhaven by GRR Martin, for one). Updraft did have an unusual twist, in that the city and its many towers are made- grown– from bone. I wish the story had focused more on the past, and how a growing city of bone could be a thing, and what the situation is on the ground far below. That would have been a really cool story. Unfortunately, it didn’t delve into that at all.
The story really focuses around two things. 1) The skymouths, weird airborne monsters that can appear out of nowhere to ravage the city. Kirit’s special talent is that her voice can repel or even maybe control them. 2) Politics and the balance/manipulation of power. The Singers are supposed to have the city’s best interests at heart, but of course someone gets corrupted by that power and simply wants to accumulate more. Kirit’s ability puts her smack in the middle of it.
I wish I could say that it was a stirring story about honor and rebellion, as I think it intended to be. But that mostly fell flat, at least for me. I never really connected with Kirit as a character. It was very much a case of Special Girl syndrome. She has a really rare talent, which alone would be enough. But then everything else difficult she has to learn or try comes so easily and naturally (and of course, that fact is commented on by other characters, just in case we readers missed it). That kind of set up rubs me the wrong way.
The whole ‘reveal’ about the Singers’ secret was not really a mystery by that point, and Kirit’s ‘plan’ for addressing it was pretty terrible. It also ended up hinging on a new kind of creature that seemed thrown in there specifically so this ending would be possible and for no other reason. This creature had no other place or purpose in the story. And again, that kind of set up rubs me the wrong way.
So overall, I got more annoyance than enjoyment out of this book. But, it did have a lot of imagination and cool details in the world-building, which gets it some bonus points. And some of the supporting characters were well-done (the twins, and a certain Singer). If you’re more tolerant of Special Girl syndrome than me, maybe give this a try.