Wilde’s debut novel, Updraft,
is a wild ride through a unique and compelling world of sky and wind and
danger. Kirit Densira is preparing
for her final tests which will determine her path into adulthood, but there are
undercurrents to her life that threaten to push her over the edge and into a
world utterly different than anything she has known growing up.
the City, everyone lives on impossibly high towers above even the clouds, and
most people travel by flying from one tower to the other on carefully crafted
wings of silk and bone. People
obey the laws and keep to their places, because that is what makes the City
strong and keeps people safe. Updraft, beyond being a twisting
coming-of-age novel about a strong-willed young woman, is a well-crafted
interrogation of concepts of right and wrong, law, authority, and knowledge. It brings to mind epic fantasy stories
in which evil is abetted by the silence and inaction of the just, while also
evoking the more freeform or complicated fantasy worlds created by writers like
N.K. Jemisin, K.J. Parker, or Ursula K. Le Guin.
only desire is to be a trader like her mother, and it is regard for her mother
that sets her on her path, leading to laws breaking and worse, until she is
sucked into the very center of secrets she never could have imagined. It is only through courage and a
willingness to understand the marginalized and powerless that Kirit is able to
help make changes. Kirit is a
refreshingly unlikable character at times, seeming spoiled and impatient, but
she learns to find both her better self and to see through to the truth of her
world. Updraft is a triumph not only of world building and storytelling,
but of empathy and family. Updraft takes the best of heroic stories
like The Lord of the Rings and
tempers their oppressive focus on honor and goodness with a realism and
pragmatism that is at times visceral.
The reader encounters many characters, but all of them are well-realized
and never feel as though they have been created just to advance the plot. Everything has weight in this novel,
even the smallest of characters and actions.
Updraft is a fast-paced story that will
appeal to readers of fantasy looking for unique plot and world building. Though the “deep secrets revealed”
narrative form is recognizable, Wilde’s characterization and relationships are
compelling enough to spark new life into an oft-used form and keep readers
interested from beginning to end. Updraft is the kind of fantasy novel
that is satisfying as a standalone, but also makes one wish for a sequel to
delve deeper into this fascinating world and history.