So Updraft by Fran Wilde (see on Amazon || see on Goodreads) follows a young girl, Kirit, through her initiation into a powerful… agency? group? I dunno– the Singers, who supposedly keeps her people safe. This is a novel, so obviously she uncovers an Evil Plot, and we the readers are dragged along for the merry ride. I enjoyed this book, actually a fair bit more than I expected.
Wilde crafts a brilliant world here, and since it should be obvious to anyone who reads these dumb reviews that worldbuilding is something I put a lot of stake in, this book gets major points for that alone. Our characters live high in the sky, in bone towers that can be grown taller using the magic of the Singers. They fly using wings that they strap to their backs. The city has a complex culture, each tower specializing in different things. This is not so well-developed as other aspects, mostly because Kirit spends the bulk of her time in the center of the city, rather than out in it. The worldbuilding is without a doubt the best part of this novel, because I can honestly say a lot of the other aspects are kind of mediocre.
None of the characters are particularly compelling or, erm… well-characterized, as it were, except maybe Kirit herself and one or two others. A lot of the characters are sort of two-dimensional and dull, and there were very few characters that I was really rooting for or would have been really devastated to see die. Those character deaths that did occur mostly got a “huh, ok” from me.
The pacing is, at the beginning of the book, dreadfully boring. You have to read a lot of shit you can just tell isn’t really going to factor into the main plot later, and it’s mostly an exercise in frustration. However, once we get into the action things become a lot more interesting. The main outline of the mystery of this book is easily solved from about 3 miles away, if not all the little details like how exactly things happened in the past. But the major revelation about the Singers’ most awful deed is one I literally spotted within the first chapter, like genuinely within the first few pages of the books. And that’s the big reveal so like… that kinda sucked, but I also felt really satisfied with myself and super smart so. Win/lose I guess.
I think I’m making this book sound worse than it is, because I want it to be clear that this was definitely an enjoyable read, even if it’s not one of my favourites ever. This book is what a teacher of mine once called “a poolside read”. You’re just chilling by the pool, kinda reading, kinda sunbathing, you don’t have to think too much, y’know? Twilight stuff. Pulp fiction, as it were. It’s the first of a series but can be read as a standalone, which always leads me to give a book a little more respect. I also have to say that this book has something really unique that is so hard to find in fantasy novels: this book ain’t about saving the world. Kirit doesn’t have a mythical quest of epic proportions. She’s just a girl with a talent that made her useful to the Singers, and she wants to do right by the people of her city. It’s low-key fantasy, which is so hard to find and so refreshing to read.
While technically lacking in elements like characterization and pacing, I do ultimately think this book deserves 4/5 cats because it’s easy to read and enjoyable, and because the worldbuilding is spot on and nobody’s gotta save the world or fulfill any prophecies.