Fran Wilde’s Updraft is a debut novel from a writer with a strong record of short story publication. Set in a post apocalyptic culture where people spend their lives above the clouds in living towers of bone, depending on fliers using silk and leather wings for transportation, and governed by a secretive group, the Singers, who live apart from all the others in the Spire, the tallest tower of all. The Towers are traversed vertically by ladders, ropes and baskets, and horizontally by bridges made of bone and sinew. Residents of the Towers, some of them, also don carefully crafted wings of bone and silk and fly above and between the Towers.
Kirit Densira wants nothing more than to pass her wing test and, like her mother Ezarit, be a Trader, flying from tower to tower, bargaining and exchanging goods. This is not as idyllic as it seems; fliers die in falls, in combat — or may horribly injured. What’s more the skies are also where giant flying beasts called skymouths range, searching for prey, invisible until they are close enough to open gaping jaws before consuming their prey. But on the eve of her flight test, she breaks one taboo too many, violating Tower Law, and manages to attract the attention of the Singers by surviving a skymouth attack.
The Singers use social pressure — in the form of public shame, ostracism, and economic pressure on Kirit, her family and friends — in an attempt to force Kirit to join them. As Kirit tries to protect her family and friends, and avoid life in the Spire with the Singers, Kirit’s understanding of her culture and her family starts to unravel as she pursues her flight dreams and discover truth.
Kirit makes hard choices, and is an appealing and believable character (no Mary Sue here!). Discovering her world through her is rewarding. This is a well-built and strikingly original world, in fact it’s an SF-nal world (though the book is labeled as Fantasy, I have some suspicions) with detail and cohesiveness reminiscent of the world-building of Anne McCaffrey, Niven or Cherryh. You can read the first chapter of Updraft, but be warned, if you do, you’ll want to read the rest.
Updraft is a completed story, so you should definitely go read it now, but I’m happy that there are two more books forthcoming in the same universe. In the meantime, there’s a short story “Bent the Wing, Dark the Cloud” set in the same universe as Updraft. Ms. Wilde is an alumni of both the Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox workshops, blogs about genre fiction and food atCooking the Books and has website and Twitter account.