Updraft

August 15, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

updraftUpdraft by Fran Wilde

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Updraft is a book that’s been on my radar for a while, but I’ve never gotten around to picking it up (so much to read…). Shortly after I joined Audible, I saw that this title was the deal-of-the-day, and it was hard to resist it at such a low price.

The story is about Kirit Densira, a resident of the bone towers, and daughter to a well-known trader. A young woman, Kirit is hoping to pass her flying tests so she can become a trader like her mother, but an event early in the novel gains attention from the Singers, the law-enforcement group among the towers. Soon, Kirit has to choose between the life she has always wanted, and saving her family and friends. Her choice leads her to discover some of the secrets of their city, and what that means to everyone who lives there.

Updraft seems like a well-told story, even though it borrows from tropes familiar to most fantasy readers. I don’t need something original every time I read a book, but it seems like the story is one we’re all familiar with, set against a unique backdrop, of a society that lives among the clouds. The bone towers are just that: living towers made of bone, with the residents continually rising higher and higher in those towers as the lower levels fill in and eliminate any possible living space. The main method of travel is flight, though there are bridges, made of bone and sinew, built between the towers for residents who can’t or don’t fly.

Kirit feels realized, as do the relationships she has with other characters. In fact, Kirit didn’t feel realized to me without those relationships. There was an extended scene where Kirit is alone, overcoming great adversity, and while I felt like I was there with her when she did, it felt almost insubstantial against her doing the same when other people were involved. Her character felt more defined by her friendships than alone, though I don’t see that as a fault of the character.

It felt like the story took a long time to get going, though that could have been because I was listening to the book and not reading it, and I was only listening to it about a half-hour at a time. Its focus changed about a third of the way into the book, almost too neatly; Wilde needed Kirit to cut all ties with her old life before moving on to the next, and did so without much subtlety. The story became more interesting at that point, but I wish there had been a bit more development to how she had to end those relationships.

Wilde creates a vivid world, and takes time to show us all the aspects of living life in the sky. She could have just mentioned that most people fly from place to place, but instead she spends time giving us the rudimentary mechanics of how they fly. The thing is, she tells us about these towers made of living bone, but doesn’t tell us how or why this came to be. They live so far up in the sky that they’re above a persistent layer of cloud; I expected some point in the novel to give us some clues how that came to be, but it never happened. It doesn’t feel like the story is set on Earth, but the characters are human, not naturally adapted to flight, so something had to have happened to force them upward.

Updraft is the first book in a trilogy, and I was a little hesitant going in because books in series rarely have self-contained stories anymore. I think Wilde did a good job containing the story here, while also giving us glimpses into where the story will go from here. Incredibly, it reminded me a bit of how the Wayward Pines series got started, since here we have a character who has to discover the big secret, and that learning it just opens up larger conflicts. Luckily, this is far better written than those books, but it does make me worry that the next two books will be a single story broken across two volumes.

Compared to Life DebtUpdraft is a more streamlined audio production; it lacks sound effects and music, which I found to be distracting in Life Debt, and the narrator, Khristine Hvam, didn’t stress the narrative the way Thompson did in the other book. Overall, the presentation here is more in line with what I was expecting, and it makes the story easier to follow and understand.

That being said, the names are strange, not just because this is a fantasy novel with unusual names, but also because I was hearing them spoken aloud instead of seeing them in print. I swear, at one point I thought a character’s name was TseTse, like the flies, and given the way the society has a fixation on flight and birds, it might even be her name. Additionally, near the end of the novel, characters who are traders are mingling with characters who are traitors, and it got a little confusing.

I feel like I missed a lot of the details of this story, having listened to it instead of reading it. It’s easy to lose focus on the narration when driving in traffic, and the way I listen to audiobooks, I don’t have a way to back up by a minute or so to rehear things. In most cases, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but I missed a key point about the conclave, and a reveal involving the main character. I still caught the main gist of each section, but had I been reading the book, I could have jumped back and re-read a paragraph or two to get a better understanding. In addition, the story has a lot worldbuilding, and I feel like I needed a better focus to get a clear picture of the world.

I’m intrigued enough to want to read the next book in the series, but I think I’ll opt to read it this time. For all the detail I feel like I missed, and for how the story ended, I think I need to be able to pay closer attention to the story from here on out.

 

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