Updraft by Fran Wilde. ★★★★
Updraft is a stand alone novel that defies easy genre categorization. It’s fantasy but there’s no magic. It’s not marketed as young adult, but the age of the protagonist makes it an easy cross over. Ultimately, what I really loved about Updraft was the incredible world building.
Kirit is the daughter of a trader, and she wants nothing more than to become her mother’s apprentice and learn how to negotiate trades between the towers of the city. The novel opens with her mother leaving for a trade when there’s a monster roaming the sky outside. Tower laws say that Kirit must remain fortified within the tower, but instead she stays outside to see her mother off. Kirit’s then attacked by the monster but remarkably survives, bringing her to the attention of the Singers, mysterious figures from the central tower. Kirit comes to realize that some of the Singers are keeping a dangerous secret.
The setting of Updraft is a city comprised of ever growing towers of bone, where people are continually moving up levels, leaving behind the world below. They travel with hand crafted wings made of spider’s silk and other organic materials. Metal is rare, mostly having been left behind. All in all, it is beautiful and immersive. I want to know more about the city and the lands around it, and luckily Wilde’s said she plans to write more stories set in the same world.
If you think the plot description sounded like a YA dystopia – young main character must confront secrets kept by shadowy ruling body – you’d be right. While some of the forms may be familiar, Updraft is entirely it’s own book. It’s also lacking the seemingly mandatory requirement of YA dystopias, a romance sub plot. There is no romance in Updraft, making it probably only the second book I’ve ever read where you have a teenage girl as the protagonist and no romance. I kept predicting that something would get shoved in at the end, possibly with her male best friend, but there were never any romantic notes to Updraft. He stays her friend, never becoming her love interest. This choice feels sadly revolutionary. Why don’t you see this in more novels?
Kirit is a worthwhile protagonist, even if she doesn’t have that special something that makes her unforgettable. She’s smart and determined, but she can also be selfish, placing her own desires above those of others. Ultimately, she does grow throughout the book. None of the secondary characters leap out at me, but they all seem believable and are easily distinguished from each other.
I’d recommend Updraft to anyone looking for a stand alone story in a captivating world. If you like YA dystopian plot but don’t care for the romances, you should also check this one out.