More than anything Kirit wants to be a trader like her mother. Instead of living her entire life on one tower, she would get to fly from tower to tower, helping the inhabitants of the city, and seeing everything the world has to offer.
But Kirit makes a terrible mistake and doesn’t return inside the tower during a dangerous migration warning, instead sitting on the terrace to watch her mother leave to take medicines to other towers. She attracts the attention of a skymouth–terrifying creatures that snatch and devour the unwary.
But Kirit survives, drawing the attention of the Singers, the city’s protectors. As a result, her plans to become a trader are threatened because the Singers have discovered Kirit’s ability to scare off skymouths–and they want her ability for their own use, even if it means threatening the people she loves.
UPDRAFT by Fran Wilde is a wild ride. The towers are made from bone that grows upward. The skymouths are invisible. Singers have implemented strict rules so keep the towers in line. Everything is grown on the towers (the ground? what’s that?). If your tower isn’t bridged with another, it’s probably because your tower is unlucky or being punished for the lawbreakers who live there. There are so many elements to this story I simply can’t cover here. Plus there would be spoilers and I wouldn’t do that to you.
So let me start with the characters. Kirit is a spirited young woman who becomes caught up in the consequences of her mistakes, but as the story progress we realize there’s more to the events than that. She’s bold and fearless, but must make the hard decision and do what she doesn’t want in order to protect her mother and those she loves. I understood Kirit and her motivations, but I had a hard time really liking her–maybe I read the book too fast, but I’m guessing that the exotic setting required so much attention that the characterization wasn’t as in-depth as it could have been.
There’s Kirit’s best friend Nat, who wants to be a hunter, and can be as reckless as Kirit. The Singer Wik who reveals secrets to Kirit so slowly it became painful for me to read; he could have been so much more and less frustrating at the same time (it often felt like all the secret keeping was a contrivance). Perhaps the most interesting of the characters was the conflicted Sellis, the woman who trains with Kirit to become a Singer. Born and raised in the Singer stronghold called the Spire, Sellis finds Kirit disruptive to the life she knows. She admires Kirit’s ability to learn quickly, and acknowledges they could even be friends. But circumstances and a dedication to Singer tradition keeps Sellis from understanding the good Kirit could do. There are other secondary characters, like novices, the Singer council leader Rumul who has questionable motives, and others. As a cast they support the story well and are easy to remember and understand.
The story moves quickly from page one, the pacing consistent across the book despite the disparate locales and shifts in plot. There are a few hiccups where the character movement is too quick and hard to follow as they make decisions and act without much transition–but that’s a very small problem. The story sucked me in, especially as things go wrong for Kirit, which is pretty much the entire book. It’s hard for her to catch a break. She must endure heartache, betrayal, and pain before she finds the solutions she seeks–clear up to the exciting climax. The story ends too abruptly in my opinion, but it doesn’t necessarily detract from the story, only that I wished I could see how the characters deal with the fallout of their decisions.
The real star of the show is the setting. While by the end I was still left with some questions, on the whole it was a thrilling world to explore through Kirit’s eyes. She obviously loves her city. And what a strange place it is to our eyes. They live in towers grown from living bone (why do they have to sing to it in order for it to grow? why are some towers more populous than others?), and the natural result is that the inhabitants must fly from tower to tower using wings constructed of bone, sinew, and spider silk. They use wings–and bridges if the towers are lucky enough to have them–for moving merchandise in trade, to hunt for food, and for the Singers from the Spire to police all activities. There are the skymouths and the threat to survival they represent (where do they come from? why are they invisible? why do they eat people?). The role that Singers play as lawbringers in the city, how they set themselves apart by living in the Spire, singing histories different from the towers in the name of tradition.
There’s so much more than what I’ve explain here for you to explore. UPDRAFT is quick to read and suitable for your teenagers, but adults will enjoy it, too.
Recommended Age: 12+
Violence: Fighting, blood death, but nothing particularly bloody or gruesome
Sex: None (one vague reference to an ‘indiscretion’)
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