I received a digital advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Untethered Sky, Ester has been on a mission of righteous vengeance ever since a manticore slaughtered her mother and younger brother. She’s been training to become a ruhker, a person who rides the mighty birds called rocs, which are the only creatures able to kill manticores. Now, Ester finally has a chance to have revenge when she is paired with a new young roc called Zahra. She cares for the roc as it grows, and together they learn to fly and hunt together. At the same time, she befriends fellow ruhkers Darius and Nasmin. But times start to change as public consciousness is raised about how the ruhkers protect everyone, and Ester finds herself part of the kingdom’s massive and most dangerous manticore hunt. The question is if she will be able to endure through this, and heal her grief at last.
For a novella, this packs a bit of a punch. The action scenes are pretty heart-pounding, with a tangible sense of the stakes and danger. I also quite liked seeing the rocs’ behavior; it’s clear that while they are tolerant and sometimes even fond of the humans they work with, these are still wild animals with minds and instincts of their own. There’s a sense of fierceness to the whole story that is quite compelling.
I also thought the characters were decent, especially the protagonist Ester and her friend/sort of love interest Darius. Their interactions were some of my favorite parts of the story, as we see how her perception of him slowly evolves. I was really rooting for them to not only get together, but to find some happiness in the tough roles they have chosen.
However, I also think this book was way too short. I wanted to explore this world a lot more, especially considering that around six years pass over the course of the story. I wanted to see more of the roc hunts, the changing culture in regards to the citizens’ view of ruhkers, and of how Ester’s friendship with both Darius and Nasmin shifts over time. I think this would have benefited from at least fifty more pages, though if it had been a full length novel, I honestly would have read that too. Even the climax felt a little too short, and some of the emotional impact was, I think, lessened by the low page count.
In the end, Untethered Sky is a cool novella, with an enthralling setting. The scenes involving manticores are exciting, and I enjoyed the dynamics between characters. If only it were longer, though!
Untethered Sky was just published on April 11th, 2023!