Women’s Book March: Updraft by Fran Wilde

I’m challenging myself to read only novels by women and femme people for a full year, from March 2019 through March 2020. Read this post to get the full story!

Delequerriat: The act of concealment, in plain sight, may only be used to turn wrong to right.

This time I read Updraft by Fran Wilde! Wilde has created a unique secondary world for this fantasy coming-of-age story. Many elements of Updraft will be recognizable to readers familiar with the Hero’s Journey, but it’s set in a universe that bears no resemblance to our own.

Wilde’s Bone Universe is aptly named: everyone who lives in the city–which, as far as we know, houses all of humanity in this world–lives in huge towers of living bone that rise above an ever-present cloudbase. No one knows what’s under the clouds; things that are thrown down below the cloud layer (including, in some cases, people) tend not to return. An origin myth tells how the Singers, a mysterious caste who enforce Laws within the city, helped the bone towers grow above the chaos of the clouds, an event recorded in song as the Rise.

In the city, people get around on connecting bridges made of sinew, or, more commonly, on artificial wings of spider silk and wood. Updraft introduces us to Kirit, a young woman excited to pass her wingtest and become a trader like her mother. But when she breaks a Law and exposes her tower to the depredations of an aerial monster called a skymouth, the Singers give her a choice: become a Singer or be marked as a Lawsbreaker and demoted “downtower”, a harsh punishment that includes the possibility of being selected as a human sacrifice to appease the city.

Updraft employs an interesting structure: we meet Kirit on the cusp of fulfilling her rite of passage into adulthood as a tower resident, only for her to be thrust into a totally new set of circumstances as a novice Singer, which almost amounts to a second childhood. The stakes are all too adult, though, as Kirit faces the constant threat of being found unworthy as a Singer, even as she develops skills with them that account for their unique status within the city.

It is in large part Kirit’s unfamiliarity with Singer tradition and her unconventional route to them that leads her to question The Way Things Are Done, with consequences that shudder through the city and lead to revelations of secrets long hidden.

Updraft asks incisive questions about power, secrecy, and transparency of government, including if it’s ever right for governments to hide things from their citizens for their own protection. If that sounds dry, fear not! The themes are gracefully embedded in a rich, moving story with plenty of action, engaging characters, and worldbuilding that manages to be both sweeping and subtle.

Already read Updraft? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

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