Welcome to the Bone Universe series, where a people live in home precariously perched upon sky-scraping pillars of living bone. Let’s spread our wings and soar over Updraft, by Fran Wilde.
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.
Plot-wise, there is nothing special about Updraft. Indeed, I found it remarkably generic. There’s a teenaged protagonist who discovers she possesses an unusual power. Because of this, a vague yet menacing organization tries to recruit her. She refuses their first overture, so they sabotage her life and leave her with no recourse but to agree. Cue dangerous initiation ceremony, learning the ways of the vague yet menacing organization, revelation of deep dark secrets, inevitable rebellion against the organization, villain is defeated by hero and dies in a fashion karmically appropriate to his crimes, roll credits. The sort of plot you can write in your sleep. No stunning surprises, shocking swerves, or big twists here; everything goes down exactly as it always does.
Y’know, I really have to wonder about all these villainous organizations who think that the best way to get the protagonist to join their side is to abduct them, imprison them, abuse them, put them in lethal situations, and generally threaten their lives. It’s a real trend I’ve noticed lately: it happens in the Towers Trilogy by Karina Sumner-Smith, and the Veiled Worlds trilogy by Jo Anderton, and plenty of other works I’ve read. I mean, it’s villainous, but it’s not very smart. What really bugs me are the occasions when the recruiting strategy actually works for a time, and it’s only later that the protagonist has the huge revelation that this organization is in fact evil, as if they’d forgotten that the whole way the organization recruited them in the first place was through assault and kidnapping and blackmail and various other sundry means. Kirit seems really quick to accept that the Spire blackmailed her for her own good, and sabotaged her flight test for her own good, and imprisoned her in a room until she nearly starved for her own good, is what I’m saying. So when she was later horrified that they forced to her to fight Nat to the death, and she discovered they were secretly breeding Skymouths as living weapons to use against the City, I was thinking, “No, surely not! The Spire, that font of kindness and mercy, that bastion of morally upright behavior, would surely never stoops so low as to… pfffft! No, sorry, I can’t even think that and keep a straight face. What’d you expect, dumbass?”
Honestly, the plot doesn’t interest me so much as the setting. The beauty of speculative fiction is that it can give rise to an infinity of beautiful and unique worlds, each with scenery more bizarre and fantastic than the last. And that is Updraft’s strength: the spectacular setting it creates as the backdrop for its humdrum plot. A city above the clouds, whose inhabitants use artificial wings to fly between their towertop homes. Great pillars of living bone, growing ever upwards, whose inhabitants are constantly moving upwards into newly grown terraces. It’s a world unlike any other I have ever read about. And it raises so many fascinating questions. How long has this group been living in the bone towers? How long can they continue to live up there – are they in danger of running up against limits like the maximum height the towers can grow to or the air becoming too thin? What’s the surface below like? What prompted them to begin living in the towers in the first place? Are these bone spires unique, or common in their world? Are there other colonies of people elsewhere in the world? Hopefully, interesting questions like these will be given equally interesting answers in the books to come.
Even if the plot isn’t that creative, the world is captivating enough that I can’t help but want to read more.
Final Rating: 3/5