Monday, April 3, 2023

Review: Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee

Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee
Publication Date: April 11th, 2023
Hardcover. 160 pages.

About Untethered Sky:

"Ester’s family was torn apart when a manticore killed her mother and baby brother, leaving her with nothing but her father’s painful silence and a single, overwhelming need to kill the monsters that took her family. 

Ester’s path leads her to the King’s Royal Mews, where the giant rocs of legend are flown to hunt manticores by their brave and dedicated ruhkers. Paired with a fledgling roc named Zahra, Ester finds purpose and acclaim by devoting herself to a calling that demands absolute sacrifice and a creature that will never return her love. The terrifying partnership between woman and roc leads Ester not only on the empire’s most dangerous manticore hunt, but on a journey of perseverance and acceptance."

Untethered Sky is a novella so I'll probably keep this review a little shorter so as to avoid giving too much away!

Untethered Sky follows Ester, a young woman who is on her way to begin her training as a rukher. A rukher is someone who trains with and is eventually paired up with a roc–a large bird of prey type of animal–in a long and complex process. Rukhers, along with their rocs, then train together to hunt the terrifying manticores which pose a large threat to humans and can wreak havoc on villages. Being a rukher is a dangerous job, and even the pairing process with a new roc can be a fatal endeavor if things don't go well, as rocs are also highly dangerous animals.

In this story, Ester is especially determined to become a rukher because of a deadly manticore attack in her childhood that killed her mother and brother, so she wants her own revenge against the manticore and to help ensure that this doesn't happen to anyone else. One thing that I think endeared Ester so much to me was how much she felt like a real, generally balanced person. A lot of protagonists tend to suffer from being so incredibly irresponsible or bullheaded that I find it hard to even relate, and I was so pleased to find that Ester wasn’t irresponsible and didn’t really take any unnecessary or poorly planned risks. She’s really a smart character and had so much nuance within her thoughts, motivations, and actions that I found myself unable to look away from her story.

I loved how much time and attention Lee put into describing and walking us through the training and bonding process between Ester and her roc, Zahra. It reminded me a lot of training a dog, but obviously far more intense and with a much wilder beast that comes with much greater potential consequences when things go wrong. I think there was a part of me that wondered at times at the notion of capturing these beautiful wild beasts and "taming" them to be hunters, but Lee makes a good case for them in this story and human's purposes for doing so. It was really interesting to see the dynamic between rukhers and their rocs and how seriously rukhers take their jobs and have such immense respect for their rocs.

The world created in Untethered Sky is vibrant and incredibly well-developed for the short amount of time we spend in it, which is usually something that I find to be a main issue in most fantasy novellas. There wasn't actually an excessive amount of world-building or description at the start, but somehow it still managed to feel fully realized and slowly expanded as the story progressed and we explored some new locations. I found that I could easily imagine the world outside of Ester and the King's Royal Mews location and really liked getting to learn a bit more about the world. I only wish this story would have been longer so that I could learn even more about the world because I liked it so much.

It’s hard for novellas to get a good balance of plot, character development, world-building, and a strong ending, but Untethered Sky really excelled at all of these, especially the latter. I thought this was one of the strongest endings to a story I’ve read in a while and fit the rest of the story perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending and it left me feeling incredibly satisfying with how much it both hurt and was beautiful at the same time.

It must be a testament to Fonda Lee's writing how much I loved this novella because I managed to read it in one day, and that happens very rarely these days! The fact that this book was able to hold my attention for so long is fairly remarkable, and speaks to what a compelling story this was. Not one word felt wasted and the pacing was exceptionally consistent throughout the entire story. Overall, I've give Untethered Sky five stars!

*I received a copy of Untethered Sky courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

1 comment: