The Compton Crook award-winning, Nebula-nominated Updraft by Fran Wilde landed her acclaim, accolades and a very fine YA novel to start the novel portion of her writing career. Focusing on a New Weird world above the cloud of flyers, skymouths and towers of bone, Updraft was one of the most memorable books I read in 2015. Cloudbound, which came out in 2016, took the world of the Bone Towers and its characters in new and intriguing directions. Somewhere in there, the series got a reboot of covers, too.
Now, with Horizon, Fran Wilde completes the trilogy. After the revelations of Cloudbound, and the instability that the Bone Tower society has undergone after the events of Updraft, Horizon brings us to the ground, literally and figuratively, in this concluding volume.
The three novels of the Bone Towers Trilogy have all done different things, and done them well. Updraft is a classic YA coming of age story with a strong central protagonist, unfolding and unfurling the wings of the author’s worldbuilding even as we have a deep dive into the personality, hopes, fears, dreams and struggles of Kirit. It would have been the easier, safer and perhaps more expected path for the author to continue the trilogy from Kirit’s point of view and go for a grand arc of Kirit’s story at the time of great change for her community. Surely, I think, the author must have considered and contemplated that sort of path for her subsequent novels.
The author, however, has had greater ambitions. In Cloudbound, the focus character, the center of the narrative is Nat, and Nat is most definitely not Kirit, and doesn’t want to be. Nat’s desire to be and efforts to become a leader, a driving force for his community, is frankly at odds with Kirit’s modus operandi. The second novel wisely puts Nat in focus, allowing Kirit to take a secondary role to tell a different sort of story. If Updraft is the story of finding oneself, making one’s way in a world, and changing that world when it turns out that the world is unjust, Cloudbound is a story of picking up the pieces and trying to make one’s way after the tyranny has been toppled, along with a helping of discovery and revelation. Kirit’s straightforward and straight line approach is ill suited to such narratives, and choosing Nat to carry that narrative was, I feel the better approach.
Whither then, Horizon?
Horizon goes for a multiplicity of narrators as the revelation at the end of Cloudbound, the existence of what truly lies beneath the clouds, is explored. We finally get to the ground, and find what wonders and amazing worldbuilding turned toward the surface. We get to see more of the world, more societies and more inventiveness. Instead of relying on the worldbuilding of the first two novels to carry her through, we get to see new and even more interesting creatures and societies down on the ground.
Given her straightforward approach and plot-driver skills, Kirit is a logical point of view character to return from the first novel, and it was a joy to see her in a point of view once again, and given the character of her portion of Horizon’s story, she was really the obvious choice. Nat returns from Cloudbound as a point of view character, still working toward being a leader, becoming a head of the community. Given the tumultuous state that the towers are in, Nat needs to step up to help save his people. The third point of view is Macal, whom we first met in Cloudbound. Councilman, magister, singer, and survivor from the fall of the Spire, he provides a voice of experience that counterpoints Nat and Kirit wonderfully.
And then there is the secret point of view, the one from future time. You see, every chapter starts with the fragment of a song, a song hitherto unseen in the books, and, the savvy reader will note, tie in directly with the events of the chapter. These fragments, when put together, form a song, a new song, a song that tells the story of the Bone Towers and their people and the journey of the novel. It’s a song conducted in past tense, and therefore the song, clearly, was composed in the future of the events of the novel. While the Rise and the songs of Updraft were about ways of living, and the song-building of Cloudbound a way to seek a future through song, the new song of Horizon tells us that there will be a future, and it is through this song that we read as we read the novel, how those future people will remember the events of the novel. It’s terribly clever, and interesting, and oh so well pulled off.
Even beyond characters and narrative frames, on a textual level, this is the most self-assured and well done book by Wilde yet. I really do think that the experience of writing her exquisite The Jewel and Her Lapidary, the Hugo-nominated novella, has been a boon to her writing in general. As excellent as the previous two novels were, this novel is perhaps the best of the three: strong clear characters, action beats, and evocation of her world.
The end of a trilogy, especially one that I have enjoyed so much, is a bittersweet affair. I did find myself as a reviewer thinking all the way back to the beginning of the series, of a young woman seeking to make her way in a world of Bone Towers, and the long journey she and her compatriots make to the conclusion, and a new world born, by the end of Horizon. It’s not only a coming of age story for the characters, and a transformational one, but a transformational one for an entire society.
With all of this and more to recommend it, Horizon masterfully completes the Bone Tower Trilogy, and is most certainly going on my nomination ballot for the YA award being presented at the Hugo’s next year. In addition, the series itself is now eligible for Best Series, and I firmly believe this series is worthy of that honor as well. Well done, Fran. Well done.