Updraft by Fran Wilde is a decent story embedded in a fascinating piece of world building. Born into a city of living bone towers connected by human flight, Kirit dreams of becoming a trader. To do that she must take the wing test, earning the right to fly alone. But between the threats of unseen monsters and the guardian Singers, becoming a trader is going to be tough.
As a story, Updraft is a perfectly decent mix of coming of age adventure and political intrigue. But the world building is where it truly excels. This is a city of bones and wings, of spidersilk and skymouths, of distant clouds and laws so immediate you can feel them rattling against your wrist. Its social structure feels a little simple, but there’s an originality to it that I’ve seen in few other books. For that alone, it’s worth reading.
On Goodreads, I was surprised to see lots of people arguing about whether this world made sense. Internal consistency is important in speculative fiction, but people often accept outlandish starting points in fantasy, not looking for the scientific explanations of sci-fi. I suspect reactions to this book were different because nothing is labeled as magic. There’s no spellcraft, no system to say that the rules of the universe are different here than in our own world. Those rules have to be different for the geography of the city and the way people fly to make sense, but without addressing that, I think some readers may have felt a subconscious absence. So they went looking for justifications that aren’t a part of this sort of fantasy.
Sometimes you have to start by accepting something extraordinary and see where it leads. That’s what Updraft is about, both as a story and as a piece of world building.It’s an approach I’m happy to go with.