Fran Wilde’s Cloudbound, the second book in her transporting Bone Universe trilogy, ended with a real doozy of a twist. In the first book, Updraft, and into Cloudbound, Wilde introduced us to a fascinating, unique culture, existing far above the clouds in great winding spires of bone, scraping out a perilous life amid endless blue skies teeming with invisible tentacles and teeth. The people of the city live on the ever-growing bone towers, and hold an almost superstitious fear of anything below the cloudline. They live their lives in flight, reeling on great updrafts of air while hanging from spidersilk wings. Theirs in an invigorating, infuriating world: so free in many ways, floating above, but also hidebound and restricted in its governance.
But at the end of the second book, a small faction of pirates and lawsbreakers, magisters and blackwings learn the truth of their city: it is dying, and its spires and towers will eventually fall—not in some far future event, but soon, in mere days or weeks. The revelation is bleak in many ways, as our principles, Nat and Kirit, two childhood friends as close as siblings and as estranged, who have matriculated through the last two novels, are trapped on a dry desert, watching their city’s death. They are down well below the line of superstition, having reached an arid landscape not even hinted at in their lore.
To Nat and Kirit and this dusty and demoralizing place is where we first return in Horizon. We watched the pair batter against injustice and corruption (and each other, sometimes) in the clumsy, often damaging way of youth. Their hearts have always been in the right place, but their actions, well, they often could have been better considered. (It’s no mistake Updraft won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy; Wilde perfectly captures the fervent idealism, imperfect understanding, and half-assed execution of that tenuous age between child and adult.)
Kirit, Nat, and their landbound companions must make choices, and soon, if they want to save the people of their city. They decide to split up: two will make the arduous climb back to the clouds, as the tower shudders and dies around them, and the other two strike out toward the horizon in the hopes of finding another city. Both groups have missions they understand are basically hopeless. The latter pair are people unsuited to life on the ground, their feet torn and aching from the very act of walking. (They are fliers.) The other two must climb a dying city, and somehow convince hundreds of people living inside of it to evacuate their teetering towers in the sky and brave an impossible-sounding reality on the ground.
From this point, Horizon breaks into vertical and horizontal narratives, as one group walks away and the other climbs. We’re also given perspectives all along the vertical line, from the midcloud on up into the dangerous politics of the tower-bound. As the city dies, towers have fallen, and the people are broken and grieving, squabbling over precious resources, enacting unhelpful vendetta in order to assign blame. They don’t know what faces them on the ground, and they’re clinging to what they know. You can’t even blame them.
After the gut-punch of Cloundbound’s ending, Horizon doubles down, raising the stakes ever higher. Nat and Kirit finally understand the nature of their world, and how they are complicit in their city’s death. Those are hard blows to take. They could decide to curl up and die, but they choose the more difficult path. Kirit must reign in her impulsiveness, a tendency to action often ends in violence. Nat must learn the value of the strategic lie, the kind that damns an individual, but saves a people. Neither choice is easy; both, in some ways, go against their natures. But your nature is a choice, a dip of wings that can send you tumbling this way or that. Rise, then—or fall.