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3.7 3
by Fran Wilde

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From the author of Cloudbound--the Nebula Award-wining first novel in the Bone Universe saga.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother's side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond.


From the author of Cloudbound--the Nebula Award-wining first novel in the Bone Universe saga.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother's side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city's secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn't destroyed outright.

Bone Universe
1) Updraft
2) Cloudbound
3) Horizon (September 2017)

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 06/01/2015
Extraordinary worldbuilding and cascading levels of intrigue make Wilde’s debut fantasy novel soar. Kirit Densira has no greater wish than to become a trader like her mother, bargaining for exotic goods and flying through their unnamed city of spires on silken wings. But when she illegally leaves shelter during an attack by the monstrous skymouths, Kirit reveals a rare ability and finds herself under pressure from the mysterious Singers, who rule the city from the Spire at its center: she must join them, or she—and her loved ones—will be punished. With nowhere else to turn, Kirit eventually accepts her new place among the Singers, where she will learn the best-kept secrets of her beloved city and the lies that are told in the name of peace. The beginning is languid, but once Kirit takes the plunge and begins to unravel the stories of the Singers, readers will be riveted. The setting is marvelously unusual, a city grown from living bone and populated by everyday people who have left the ground far behind; though Wilde leaves many questions unanswered, this only adds to the mystery and delight, encouraging the reader to suspend disbelief and become immersed in Kirit’s story. This well-written and fascinating exploration of a strange land is an extremely promising start for an exciting new writer. Agent: Rachel Kory, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency. (Sept.)
Library Journal
On the eve of the wing test that will finally allow her to take her place alongside her mother as a trader between the towers, Kirit Densira breaks tower law and attracts a skymouth. In a panic, she finds an unexpected skill: her voice can control the invisible predators that roam the skies around the towers. This talent brings her to the attention of the Singers, those in charge of enforcing tower laws and protecting the people. Forced to train with the Singers, Kirit soon uncovers secrets about her own family and about the Singers that could endanger the towers at risk. VERDICT The world of the towers grown from bone, where residents strap on wings and soar the air currents, is captivating. As a coming-of-age story, Kirit's journey to find her place is satisfying, but the real draw is a world that readers will be anxious to revisit in future volumes of this exciting new series.—MM
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Kirit is ready to take her wing test and apprentice as a trader in her sky-bound world of living bone towers. However, her heritage gives her a unique talent that the Singers, who are the ruling class of the City, want to make use of. Kirit is ultimately forced to become a novice in the Spire. There, she learns that the history of her world is different than she has been taught. The misinformation spread to the populations living in the Towers is for their protection, she learns. Over time, Kirit begins to see that the power held within the Spire is damaging to the City and begins to take steps to overthrow the Singers from within. The world of Updraft is complex and unique. The low-tech society set in the sky is both agoraphobic and claustrophobic in nature. Those who own silk wings have mobility and access to information, but those who do not are trapped in their towers. While the world is fascinating, the plot is overly complex. Fortunately, the themes of a corrupt central governing body being challenged by a teen who is able to stand up for what she believes is not new. Readers will be comfortable enough with these tropes to ignore the parts of the plot that are confusing. Lots of aerial fight scenes make for a fast-paced read. Refreshingly, Kirit has close relationships with friends and family, but there is no romance. VERDICT Fans of dystopian fiction who don't require romance will enjoy this unique setting.—Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Bone Universe Series , #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Fran Wilde

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2015 Fran Wilde
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5820-6



My mother selected her wings as early morning light reached through our balcony shutters. She moved between the shadows, calm and deliberate, while downtower neighbors slept behind their barricades. She pushed her arms into the woven harness. Turned her back to me so that I could cinch the straps tight against her shoulders.

When two bone horns sounded low and loud from Mondarath, the tower nearest ours, she stiffened. I paused as well, trying to see through the shutters' holes. She urged me on while she trained her eyes on the sky.

"No time to hesitate, Kirit," she said. She meant no time to be afraid.

On a morning like this, fear was a blue sky emptied of birds. It was the smell of cooking trapped in closed towers, of smoke looking for ways out. It was an ache in the back of the eyes from searching the distance, and a weight in the stomach as old as our city.

Today Ezarit Densira would fly into that empty sky — first to the east, then southwest.

I grabbed the buckle on her left shoulder, then put the full weight of my body into securing the strap. She grunted softly in approval.

"Turn a little, so I can see the buckles better," I said. She took two steps sideways. I could see through the shutters while I worked.

Across a gap of sky, Mondarath's guards braved the morning. Their wings edged with glass and locked for fighting, they leapt from the tower. One shouted and pointed.

A predator moved there, nearly invisible — a shimmer among exploding gardens. Nets momentarily wrapped two thick, sky-colored tentacles. The skymouth shook free and disappeared. Wails built in its wake. Mondarath was under attack.

The guards dove to meet it, the sun dazzling their wings. The air roiled and sheared. Pieces of brown rope netting and red banners fell to the clouds far below. The guards drew their bows and gave chase, trying to kill what they could not see.

"Oh, Mondarath," Ezarit whispered. "They never mind the signs."

The besieged tower rose almost as tall as ours, sun-bleached white against the blue morning. Since Lith fell, Mondarath marked the city's northern edge. Beyond its tiers, sky stretched uninterrupted to the horizon.

A squall broke hard against the tower, threatening a loose shutter. Then the balcony's planters toppled and the circling guards scattered. One guard, the slowest, jerked to a halt in the air and flew, impossibly, backwards. His leg yanked high, flipping his body as it went, until he hung upside down in the air. He flailed for his quiver, spilling arrows, as the sky opened below him, red and wet and filled with glass teeth. The air blurred as slick, invisible limbs tore away his brown silk wings, then lowered what the monster wanted into its mouth.

By the time his scream reached us, the guard had disappeared from the sky.

My own mouth went dry as dust.

How to help them? My first duty was to my tower, Densira. To the Laws. But what if we were under attack? My mother in peril? What if no one would help then? My heart hammered questions. What would it be like to open our shutters, leap into the sky, and join this fight? To go against Laws?

"Kirit! Turn away." Ezarit yanked my hand from the shutters. She stood beside me and sang the Law, Fortify:

Tower by tower, secure yourselves,

Except in city's dire need.

She had added the second half of the Law to remind me why she flew today. Dire need.

She'd fought for the right to help the city beyond her own tower, her own quadrant. Someday, I would do the same.

Until then, there was need here too. I could not turn away.

The guards circled Mondarath, less one man. The air cleared. The horns stopped for now, but the three nearest towers — Wirra, Densira, and Viit — kept their occupied tiers sealed.

Ezarit's hand gripped the latch for our own shutters. "Come on," she whispered. I hurried to tighten the straps at her right shoulder, though I knew she didn't mean me. Her escort was delayed.

She would still fly today.

Six towers in the southeast stricken with a coughing illness needed medicines from the north and west. Ezarit had to trade for the last ingredients and make the delivery before Allmoons, or many more would die.

The buckling done, she reached for her panniers and handed them to me.

Elna, my mother's friend from downtower, bustled in the kitchen, making tea. After the first migration warnings, Ezarit had asked her to come uptower, for safety's sake — both Elna's and mine, though I no longer needed minding.

Elna's son, Nat, had surprised us by helping her climb the fiber ladders that stretched from the top of the tower to the last occupied tier. Elna was pale and huffing as she finally cleared the balcony. When she came inside, I saw why Nat had come. Elna's left eye had a cloud in it — a skyblindness.

"We have better shutters," Ezarit had said. "And are farther from the clouds. Staying higher will be safer for them."

A mouth could appear anywhere, but she was right. Higher was safer, and on Densira, we were now highest of all.

At the far side of our quarters, Nat kept an eye on the open sky. He'd pulled his sleeping mat from behind a screen and knelt, peering between shutters, using my scope. When I finished helping my mother, I would take over that duty.

I began to strap Ezarit's panniers around her hips. The baskets on their gimbaled supports would roll with her, no matter how the wind shifted.

"You don't have to go," I said as I knelt at her side. I knew what her reply would be. I said my part anyway. We had a ritual. Skymouths and klaxons or not.

"I will be well escorted." Her voice was steady. "The west doesn't care for the north's troubles, or the south's. They want their tea and their silks for Allmoons and will trade their honey to the highest bidder. I can't stand by while the south suffers, not when I've worked so hard to negotiate the cure."

It was more than that, I knew.

She tested the weight of a pannier. The silk rustled, and the smell of dried tea filled the room. She'd stripped the bags of their decorative beads. Her cloak and her dark braids hung unadorned. She lacked the sparkle that trader Ezarit Densira was known for.

Another horn sounded, past Wirra, to the west.

"See?" She turned to me. Took my hand, which was nearly the same size as hers. "The skymouths take the east. I fly west. I will return before Allmoons, in time for your wingtest."

Elna, her face pale as a moon, crossed the room. She carried a bowl of steaming tea to my mother. "For your strength today, Risen," she said, bowing carefully in the traditional greeting of lowtower to high.

My mother accepted the tea and the greeting with a smile. She'd raised her family to the top of Densira through her daring trades. She had earned the greeting. It wasn't always so, when she and Elna were young downtower mothers. But now Ezarit was famous for her skills, both bartering and flying. She'd even petitioned the Spire successfully once. In return, we had the luxury of quarters to ourselves, but that only lasted as long as she kept the trade flowing.

As long as she could avoid the skymouths today.

Once I passed my wingtest, I could become her apprentice. I would fly by her side, and we'd fight the dangers of the city together. I would learn to negotiate as she did. I'd fly in times of dire need while others hid behind their shutters.

"The escort is coming," Nat announced. He stood; he was much taller than me now. His black hair curled wildly around his head, and his brown eyes squinted through the scope once more.

Ezarit walked across the room, her silk-wrapped feet swishing over the solid bone floor. She put her hand on Nat's shoulder and looked out. Over her shoulders, between the point of her furled wings and through the shutters, I saw a flight of guards circle Mondarath, searching out more predators. They yelled and blew handheld horns, trying to scare skymouths away with noise and their arrows. That rarely worked, but they had to try.

Closer to us, a green-winged guard soared between the towers, an arrow nocked, eyes searching the sky. The guards atop Densira called out a greeting to him as he landed on our balcony.

I retightened one of Ezarit's straps, jostling her tea. She looked at me, eyebrows raised.

"Elna doesn't need to watch me," I finally said. "I'm fine by myself. I'll check in with the aunts. Keep the balcony shuttered."

She reached into her pannier and handed me a stone fruit. Her gold eyes softened with worry. "Soon." The fruit felt cold in my hand. "I need to know you are all safe. I can't fly without knowing. You'll be free to choose your path soon enough."

After the wingtest. Until then, I was a dependent, bound by her rules, not just tower strictures and city Laws.

"Let me come out to watch you go, then. I'll use the scope. I won't fly."

She frowned, but we were bartering now. Her favorite type of conversation.

"Not outside. You can use the scope inside. When I return, we'll fly some of my route around the city, as practice." She saw my frustration. "Promise me you'll keep inside? No visiting? No sending whipperlings? We cannot lose another bird."

"For how long?" A mistake. My question broke at the end with the kind of whine that hadn't slipped out in years. My advantage dissipated like smoke.

Nat, on Ezarit's other side, pretended he wasn't listening. He knew me too well. That made it worse.

"They will go when they go." She winced as sounds of Mondarath's mourning wafted through the shutters. Peering out again, she searched for the rest of her escort. "Listen for the horns. If Mondarath sounds again, or if Viit goes, stay away from the balconies."

She looked over her shoulder at me until I nodded, and Nat too.

She smiled at him, then turned and wrapped her arms around me. "That's my girl."

I would have closed my eyes and rested my head against the warmth of her chest if I'd thought there was time. Ezarit was like a small bird, always rushing. I took a breath, and she pulled away, back to the sky. Another guard joined the first on the balcony, wearing faded yellow wings.

I checked Ezarit's wings once more. The fine seams. The sturdy battens. They'd worn in well: no fraying, despite the hours she'd flown in them. She'd traded five bolts of raw silk from Naza tower to the Viit wingmaker for these, and another three for mine. Expensive but worth it. The wingmaker was the best in the north. Even Singers said so.

Furled, her wings were a tea-colored brown, but a stylized kestrel hid within the folds. The wingmaker had used tea and vegetable dyes — whatever he could get — to make the rippling sepia pattern.

My own new wings leaned against the central wall by our sleeping area, still wrapped. Waiting for the skies to clear. My fingers itched to pull the straps over my shoulders and unfurl the whorls of yellow and green.

Ezarit cloaked herself in tea-colored quilted silks to protect against the chill winds. They tied over her shoulders, around her trim waist and at her thighs and ankles. She spat on her lenses, her dearest treasure, and rubbed them clean. Then she let them hang around her neck. Her tawny cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright, and she looked, now that she was determined to go, younger and lighter than yesterday. She was beautiful when she was ready to fly.

"It won't be long," she said. "Last migration through the northwest quadrant lasted one day."

Our quadrant had been spared for my seventeen years. Many in the city would say our luck had held far too long while others suffered. Still, my father had left to make a trade during a migration and did not return. Ezarit took his trade routes as soon as I was old enough to leave with Elna.

"How can you be sure?" I asked.

Elna patted my shoulder, and I jumped. "All will be well, Kirit. Your mother helps the city."

"And," Ezarit said, "if I am successful, we will have more good fortune to celebrate."

I saw the gleam in her eye. She thought of the towers in the west, the wealthier quadrants. Densira had scorned us as unlucky after my father disappeared, family and neighbors both. The aunts scorned her no longer, as they enjoyed the benefits of her success. Even last night, neighbors had badgered Ezarit to carry trade parcels for them to the west. She'd agreed, showing respect for family and tower. Now she smiled. "Perhaps we won't be Ezarit and Kirit Densira for long."

A third guard clattered to a landing on the balcony, and Ezarit signaled she was ready. The tower marks on the guards' wings were from Naza. Out of the migration path; known for good hunters with sharp eyes. No wonder Nat stared at them as if he would trade places in a heartbeat.

As Ezarit's words sank in, he frowned. "What's wrong with Densira?"

"Nothing's wrong with Densira," Elna said, reaching around Ezarit to ruffle Nat's hair. She turned her eyes to the balcony, squinting. "Especially since Ezarit has made this blessed tower two tiers higher."

Nat sniffed, loudly. "This tier's pretty nice, even if it reeks of brand-new."

My face grew warm. The tier did smell of newly grown bone. The central core was still damp to the touch.

Still, I held my chin high and moved to my mother's side.

Not that long ago, Nat and I had been inseparable. Practically wing-siblings. Elna was my second mother. My mother, Nat's hero. We'd taken first flights together. Practiced rolls and glides. Sung together, memorizing the towers, all the Laws. Since our move, I'd seen him practicing with other flightmates. Dojha with her superb dives. Sidra, who had the perfect voice for Laws and already wore glorious, brand-new wings. Whose father, the tower councilman, had called my mother a liar more than once after we moved uptower, above their tier.

I swallowed hard. Nat, Elna, and I would be together in my still-new home until Ezarit returned. Like old times, almost.

In the air beyond the balcony, a fourth figure appeared. He glided a waiting circle. Wings shimmered dove gray. Bands of blue at the tips. A Singer.

A moment of the old childhood fear struck me, and I saw Nat pale as well. Singers sometimes took young tower children to the Spire. It was a great honor. But the children who went didn't return until they were grown. And when they came back, it was as gray-robed strangers, scarred and tattooed and sworn to protect the city.

The guards seemed to relax. The green-winged guard nudged his nearest companion, "Heard tell no Singer's ever been attacked by a skymouth." The other guards murmured agreement. One cracked his knuckles. Our Magister for flight and Laws had said the same thing. No one ever said whether those who flew with Singers had the same luck, but the guards seemed to think so.

I hoped it was true.

Ezarit signaled to the guards, who assembled in the air near the Singer. She smiled at Elna and hugged her. "Glad you are here."

"Be careful, Ezarit," Elna whispered back. "Speed to your wings."

Ezarit winked at Nat, then looked out at the sky. She nodded to the Singer. Ready. She gave me a fierce hug and a kiss. "Stay safe, Kirit."

Then she pushed the shutters wide, unfurled her wings, and leapt from the balcony into the circle of guards waiting for her with bows drawn.

The Singer broke from their formation first, dipping low behind Wirra. I watched from the threshold between our quarters and the balcony until the rest were motes against the otherwise empty sky. Their flight turned west and disappeared around Densira's broad curve.

For the moment, even Mondarath was still.

* * *

Nat moved to pull the shutters closed, but I blocked the way. I wanted to keep watching the sky.

"Kirit, it's Laws," he said, yanking my sleeve. I jerked my arm from his fingers and stepped farther onto the balcony.

"You go inside," I said to the sky. I heard the shutter slam behind me. I'd broken my promise and was going against Laws, but I felt certain that if I took my eyes off the sky, something would happen to Ezarit and her guards.

We'd seen signs of the skymouth migration two days ago. House birds had molted. Silk spiders hid their young. Densira prepared. Watchmen sent black-feathered kaviks to all the tiers. They cackled and shat on the balconies while families read the bone chips they carried.

Attempting to postpone her flight, Ezarit had sent a whipperling to her trading partners in the south and west. They'd replied quickly, "We are not in the migration path." "We can sell our honey elsewhere." There would be none left to mix with Mondarath's herbs for the southeast's medicines.

She made ready. Would not listen to arguments. Sent for Elna early, then helped me strip the balcony.

Mondarath, unlike its neighbors, paid little mind to preparations. The skymouth migration hadn't passed our way for years, they'd said. They didn't take their fruit in. They left their clotheslines and the red banners for Allmoons flapping.

Around me now, our garden was reduced to branches and leaves. Over the low bone outcrop that marked Aunt Bisset's balcony, I saw a glimmer. A bored cousin with a scope, probably. The wind took my hair and tugged the loose tendrils. I leaned out to catch one more glimpse of Ezarit as she passed beyond the tower's curve.

The noise from Mondarath had eased, and the balconies were empty on the towers all around us. I felt both entirely alone and as if the eyes of the city were on me.

I lifted my chin and smiled, letting everyone behind their shutters know I wasn't afraid, when they were. I panned with our scope, searching the sky. A watchman. A guardian.

And I saw it. It tore at my aunt's gnarled trees, then shook loose the ladder down to Nat's. It came straight at me fast and sure: a red rip in the sky, sharp beak edges toothed with ridge upon ridge of glass teeth. Limbs flowed forward like thick tongues.

I dropped the scope.

The mouth opened wider, full of stench and blood.

I felt the rush of air and heard the beat of surging wings, and I screamed. It was a child's scream, not a woman's. I knew I would die in that moment, with tears staining my tunic and that scream soiling my mouth. I heard the bone horns of our tower's watch sound the alarm: We were unlucky once more.


Excerpted from Updraft by Fran Wilde. Copyright © 2015 Fran Wilde. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

FRAN WILDE is an author and technology consultant. In 2015, her first novel, Updraft, accomplished the rare feat of winning the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy while also being nominated for the Best Novel Nebula Award. Her short stories have appeared in Asimov's Nature and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Wilde also blogs about food and genre at Cooking the Books (franwilde.wordpress.com/cooking-the-books) and for the popular social-parenting website GeekMom. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family.

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Updraft 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Laura Holt More than 1 year ago
Loved the character development, and thoroughly enjoyed visualizing this new world. I was swept away and sucked into the City of bone towers and winged heroes and villains. I loved discovering secrets along with Kirit. Read it!
StephanieTiner More than 1 year ago
Kirit dreams of flying the wind just like her mother, trading goods between the bone towers that make up the city that she calls home. Her future is threatened, however, when she breaks tower laws and risks her chance to wing test. Despite her punishment, Kirit makes it to the tests and passes all stages. When the time comes, Kirit is denied her wings. Enraged, Kirit breaks more city laws in an attempt to claim her wings. Instead she is given a choice: become Kirit Notower or claim her birthright as a singer like her father. Curious to learn more about her father and terrified of the alternative, Kirit agrees to train as a singer. Deep within the Spire, she will discover secrets that could bring down the entire city. Can Kirit and her friends fix past wrongs before anyone else dies? This book was okay. From the beginning it was nothing like I expected it to be. The towers where the people live were hard for me to imagine as well as the skymouths that plagued the city. The character's desire to become a trader was were apparent from the beginning but it took a lot longer for the way that the city worked to actually become apparent. I did enjoy the characters of Kirit, Nat, and Elna. I enjoyed their personalities greatly, however, I disliked the fact that no one trusted anyone. That really irritated me because I fell that the character of Kirit should have been able to trust at least one person. I de believe that others will enjoy this book much more than I did. All in all, it was okay, and I am happy that I read it, though, at this point, I am undecided as to whether or not I will be continuing in the series.
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
Kirit Densira is counting the days until she can take her flight test and follow in her mother's footsteps as a trader. Kirit dreams of making a name for herself as a merchant, like her mother, and flying between towers with goods to trade and acquire. Kirit's dreams are forever changed when she breaks Tower Law and exhibits a rare ability crucial to fighting the skymouths--monsters that can appear in the skies without warning. With her family threatened by punishment for her crime, Kirit has no choice but to agree to train in the Spire to become a Singer and join them as part of the city's lawmakers and enforcers. During her training, Kirit will learn more about her city and its laws. She will also make a choice that could change her city forever. Or destroy it in Updraft (2015) by Fran Wilde. Updraft is Wilde's first novel and the start of a new series. Updraft is filled with vivid descriptions that Kirit's world to life with all of its dangers and wonder. Compared to the well-realized backdrop for the story, the character motivations often feel like thin contrivances meant to move the plot along. Wilde has create a strange and eerie world where towers are grown from bone, monsters with gaping mouths prowl the sky, and wings are the only way to travel in a community that abandoned the ground long ago. Updraft remains firmly focused on its characters throughout, particularly Kirit who is followed with a close third-person narration. Wilde does an excellent job of expanding the world she has created here and introducing characters that promise fascinating adventures in future installments. Updraft is a solid and evocative fantasy novel. Recommended for readers who like their fantasy adventures to be slightly weird and their prose literary. Possible Pairings: Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, Eon by Allison Goodman, Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, Soundless by Richelle Mead, The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier *A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*