Fran Wilde’s debut novel Updraft flew onto the scene in 2015. With fliers, cities of bone, invisible skymouths and more in a lean and mean YA format, Updraft was a gust of fresh air in fantasy.
Cloudbound takes place not long after the revolutionary events at the end of Updraft. The unjust order of the Spire has been overthrown. The old order is gone. Updraft is upsetting an unjust order. Cloudbound asks, and answers the question — once you have toppled that unnatural order, how do you build a new one? How do you make society work? And what do you do about people willing to take advantage of the chaos, confusion and upset social structures to make their own plans for the future manifest?
Instead of continuing Kirit as point of view in Cloudbound, Wilde switches gears completely, with Nat. Kirit is the straight-ahead, dogged heroine of the first book still, and she looks and feels quite different from the eyes of the thinking, put-it-together and want-to-be-a-leader in Nat. Kirit does appear on scene from time to time, but we remain resolutely in Nat’s head, and his very different outlook, goals and path mean that Cloudbound has a definitely different page feel than Updraft does. It’s a sequel in the sense that it takes place after the events of the first novel, but this change in protagonist and focus means that from the get-go, it is *not* just “more of the same”. This is feature, not bug.
In the slim confines of Cloudbound, keeping that lean and mean YA format, Wilde juggles not only a post-revolutionary world, but also an expansion of the worldbuilding. In reading Updraft, I had suspicions, ideas and speculations about just what lies down in the murk beneath the cloud layer. In Cloudbound, as befits the title, we take a deep dive to find the worlds that lie beneath the world of the bone towers, the sub rosa world that is in a very real sense the foundation of the world that we learned about in Updraft. To say more about it, though, would spoil the delightful and eye-opening revelations. Suffice it to say that the fact that there are dangerous creatures to rival the feared skymouths down in the clouds is only the beginning.
Although I was initially dubious at the idea of changing protagonists, it turns out that Nat is the obvious and better choice for the story that Wilde tells in Cloudbound. The straight-ahead Kirit is not well suited to the politics, factioning, and worldbuilding that Cloudbound features. Nat’s exploratory nature makes Cloudbound journey through convoluted canyons with much to see, rather than a straight-ahead flight in open space without pause for rest that Kirit might bring. This also means that Updraft, retroactively, does a lot of building for readers, particularly YA readers, of laying the groundwork to make them ready for the different reading experience of Cloudbound.
Cloudbound is to Fran Wilde’s Updraft, as The Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars. Instead of being a retread or an easy and simple way forward, with the new point of view and new lens into her world, she expands it, complicates it, and makes it darkly wondrous. Read both, and soar into her world.