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by Fran Wilde
Tor, $17.99 TPB, 393pp
Published: September 2017

Kirit and Nat live in a very strange world; towers built of bone high above the clouds where the only mode of transportation is flying.  In the previous story, “Updraft” (click here for the review), Kirit broke laws and challenged the fabric of their society.  Due as much to luck as her youthful arrogance, she survived the purge of the Singers, a class of flyers who had withheld secrets from the city; secrets about the city’s origin.  Nat is now part of the governing establishment and less patient with his friend’s willfulness.  He sees himself as a savior who will help unite the towers again and bring peace.  But that peace is challenged as two rivals battle politically for the heart of the people.  And one of them plays dirty.  Dix’s machinations are discovered to be draining the life of one of the towers and endangering everyone; but her political base is so strong it seems impossible to challenge her successfully without breaking more laws and descending below the clouds.

Descending below the clouds where the updrafts are less reliable has always been seen as a death sentence.  Indeed, their sentence for a capital crime is to be cast off the towers, into the clouds below them.  But descending below the clouds may be the only way for Nat and Kirit to discover exactly what Dix is doing and understand better just what their city really is.  But the trip down for Nat and his friends and allies is longer than anyone imagined and will cause more questions than answers.

This is, by far, the oddest world I’ve ever read of.  Some of the suppositions are ridiculous and I don’t see the author giving us any explanation.  For example:  Nat and Kirit find engraved metal tablets with instructions and lore from their long-gone ancestors…where did metal come from?  Their society has no industrial technology whatsoever.  In fact, there is no explanation of where their foodstuffs come from or how they manufacture much of anything.  The author focuses on a particular character, in this book that is Nat, and the problem he has to solve to the exclusion of anything else related to the society.  This just doesn’t work for me.  I like to feel immersed in a story and this story keeps me at arm’s length.  The sparse dialog doesn’t help. 

The author postulates that the people have lived in this way for so many generations, that no one questions their origins or searches for understanding of their environment.  The focus is on their tradition of songs and the information found on the ancient metal tablets to find answers for contemporary problems.  I just don’t think that’s the way people think or react.  Humans are problem-solvers and will pick apart just about anything to learn how it works.  But no one questions where their living bone towers come from or, more importantly to me, what is growing the towers? I’m okay with suspending disbelief in favor of enjoying a story, but this lack of curiosity on the part of the characters stalls the story.

I gave the author the benefit of the doubt and finished the story.  There was something of a payoff at the end and if properly played out in the third book could rescue the whole series.  Since the third book is already on my shelf, I’ll be reviewing that soon.  Stay tuned….~~  Catherine Book

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