Review: Updraft (Bone Universe, #1) by Fran Wilde

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: June 03 to 07, 2016
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to:

Not really a review, just some scattered thoughts I had after reading this book.

After seeing so many positive reviews and hearing so many people praising this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. Almost all the book blogs made it sound just fascinating–a city made of bone towers, wings and flying contraptions, sky monsters, a conspiracy, steampunk-ish technology, I think there were even mentions of otherworldly ecosystems. So a lot of hype, more than enough hype to get my attention. Turned out, the book was a let down. I wouldn’t go as far to say it was bad, just not right for me.

My biggest issue with this book was not being able to make sense of the setting, nor was I able to connect with any of the characters, but that’s a lesser issue than the setting. The point of reading genre fiction, for me, is all about the setting/world building. If a book can make me feel immersed in its world like I had lived there for the duration of the read, and it’s a great world, then that’s all I need, really. Just simple as that–“simple” hah! Characters, plot, narrative, story arc, prose, etc etc. all take a backseat to world building. But here in bone universe of Updraft, very little about this particular world seemed right and very little about it made sense. I think I checked out of this adventure around the point the Singers were introduced because I got tired of things not making sense, but ironically I continued reading to see if the ending made any sense.

This book without a doubt is a coming-of-age dystopian YA. Maybe if a few blogs and reviewers had mentioned that early on, I would’ve reigned in my expectations and gone in with the knowledge that the writing might not have been a good fit for me. YA is not my thing, neither is dystopian fiction, and together they… are really really not my thing–personal preference. That plus the world building inconsistencies made it an uphill slog. And this book had all the genre trappings of teenagers being angsty while rising up to challenge an oppressive ruling body. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve all read too many stories like it before. And if I had known that early on, it would’ve changed my whole reading experience.

Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe I shouldn’t have fallen for the hype, maybe I should’ve read between the lines (of blog posts and reviewers) more. Or at least wait until a few friends pick up the book before deciding whether or not to read it myself. I wasn’t disappointed exactly because I’m not the book’s target audience, but it really was too bad it didn’t work out.

* * * initial reaction * * *

I was so looking forward to enjoying this one, but it just wasn’t meant to be. There are just too many things wrong with it, so I’m amending my previous rating because I don’t see what everyone sees in this book.

The bone world and the world-building is where all my issues lie. Nothing about these bone towers makes any sense to me, not even when I look at it from the context given and the logic of the bone world. And the more I think on these things, trying to unpack them, the less sense they make.

How is this bone world, way above the clouds, livable, let alone sustainable? Where do these tower people get their water? And I haven’t even touched on the baffling dystopian social structure or the flying contraptions yet.

Still can’t believe this book was nominated for a Nebula or that it won the Andre Norton. Then again, Uprooted by Naomi Novik winning the Nebula still baffles me too, so… yeah.

* * * * *

Not quite 3 stars but close enough to round up.

I don’t know what exactly it is about the setting and world-building that bothers, so will have to think on them some more, but in general, almost everything about this bone world is not sitting well with me. There are too many questions about infrastructure, environmental upkeep, and basic ecology and evolutionary things that are keeping me up at night.

Btw, this is a coming-of-age, rite-of-passage, dystopian YA told in first person, and it’s very obnoxious obvious. I wish I’d known that going in because I was not prepared for all that teenage angst and foolhardiness.

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