Today, I’m starting Updraft, a YA fantasy story 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.
Okay. I started up the audiobook on my long commute this morning and listened to the start of chapter 3.
Spoilers will follow.
The story starts with Kirit, she appears to be a teenager approaching adulthood, helping her mother get ready to make a flight. There’s a fair amount of exposition in this, but there needs to be as this is a very unique and imaginative setting. Kirit’s mother, I don’t know how to spell the name, is a trader who is strapping on a set of wings that she will use to carry goods to trade for some medicine her city needs. However, it’s apparent the skies are not safe as they watch flying guards from another tower (more on that in a minute) fighting what sounds like a huge flying squid that can camouflage itself against the blue sky so well it becomes almost invisible. They are called ‘sky mouths’ apparently because about the only part of it you can see is a gaping maw of glass teeth when it opens it mouth to chomp you. And, as a matter of fact, one of the guards does get eaten before the others can drive it away. Cool and dangerous creature and I like how it has the amazing camouflaging abilities than some real life cephalopods do.
Between the conversation between Kirit and her mother, Kirit’s thoughts, and the action outside, we get a picture of what this world is like. Kirit and her people live in great towers of living bone high in the sky above the clouds. Each tower is it’s own community though they seem to be tied together by some common laws and agreements. I think there is also a concept of a city which is a collection of towers, but I’m not entirely clear. In any event, the towers don’t go to each other’s defense when attacked by sky mouths, but they do trade which is where Kirit’s mother comes in. Kirit’s mother is a highly respected trader whose service to the tower and connections have place her and Kirit in the highest part of their tower–a great honor. How high you live in a tower seems to denote class to a great extent. We also learn that Kirit’s father was also a trader, but when Kirit was young he went out on a trading flight and never returned.
With the sky mouths in the area, the people in Kirit’s tower shutter themselves in and remove any colorful or bright decorations that might attract them. Also some family friends from a lower tier of the tower join them because the higher part of the tower is safer than the lower parts. They are Nell and her son Nat (I think, I’m listening here, not reading) who are like a second family to Kirit. Nell looked after Kirit when her mother went on trading runs and Nat is like a brother.
Wow, this is getting long. There’s so much introduction to this world and these characters that it’s hard to keep it brief.
Anyhow, some guards arrive that will form an escort for Kirit’s mother on her flight. The final member of the escort is a ‘Singer’. Singers are respected and feared by Kirit’s people and hold an authority that is above that of individual towers. Part of the reason they are feared is that they sometimes take away children to be raised as future Singers in a mysterious sounding place called the spire. It’s an honor and sadness to have a child chosen.
Then Kirit’s mother is off, flying away on her task. Kirit disobeys her mother’s orders (and tower law since sky mouths are in the area) by going out onto the balcony and watching her mother fly off with a spyglass. She’s spotted by a sky mouth and attacked. Kirit screams and the beast hesitates. When Kirit realizes this, she screams again and it drives the sky mouth away. Drained, she collapses on the balcony until someone comes to lift her and take her inside. When she can focus, she realizes the person is a Singer.
The Singer helps her recover and berates her for being out on the balcony and attracting the attention of a sky mouth with the glinting light off her spyglass. Then he takes her aside and tells her that driving away sky mouths and other monsters with her voice is a very special ability that only a few people possess, and that he wants to take her away to live with the Singers in the spire. Kirit refuses, not wanting to give up a future as a trader, despite the Singer’s threats to punish both her and her mother (and Nell and Nat) for Kirit’s breaking of tower laws. We also learn that Nat’s father was thrown from the tower to fall to his death because he had broken tower laws. Kirit still refuses and the Singer keeps his word, making Kirit and Nat wear thin bone chips marked with their punishment (to do cleaning in the lower levels of the tower). He also has a little thicker bone chips for Kirit’s mother and Nell. The thickness denotes the severity of the crime, though none of these particular chips appear to be really bad.
I leave off with a disgraced Kirit being lowered in a basket to the lower tiers of the tower where she will apparently live with Nell and Nat while working off her punishment in the still lower levels. There is some more little tidbits about the tower here too. Apparently, as the bone tower grows the lower parts get filled by the core structure as it widens to create a more secure base. It’s also thought that the towers eventually merge into a single giant sold bone trunk much further down. What lies below that is pure mystery. Pretty cool.
So a good start. It’s a very interesting and unique world that I’m enjoying finding out about, and I’m learning about Kirit too. It’s maybe a little slow going at first with the amount of exposition, but honestly, I think it has to be to set up a world this different. I’m definitely eager to listen to more.
One more thing. If there is something I really have a pet peeve about in a book, and it shows up in fantasy books too often, it’s a character getting out of a dangerous situation by having a previously unknown and un-hinted at ability or power suddenly appear. This might sound like one of those cases, but it’s not the same thing for me. This is just part of setting up the character and situation and serves as something for the plot to turn on, in fact it sends Kirit right into another even more interesting diliemma with the Singer wanting to take her away. So when you hear me complain about the timely appearance of new abilities in other books, this isn’t what I mean. Here it’s used for story building and creating mystery and conflict, not as a cheap way out of a dangerous situation.
Looking forward to the next listen 🙂