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Book Review | Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee

From the publisher: Ester’s family was torn apart when a manticore killed her mother and brother, leaving her with nothing but her father’s painful silence and an 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.

This is a delightful little morsel of a tale, an entire story arc in less than 200 pages. I love fantasy, but so often a series is such a commitment, hundreds if not thousands of pages to get the whole story. Untethered Sky delighted me because it’s short, immersive, and complete.

This is a woman telling her personal story, not an author laying the foundations for her fantasy world, so everything is not spelled out, every element of the world is not detailed. There is grief, loss, growth, acceptance, friendship, love, all laid out in what feels slower than seems possible in a short novella. The most significant relationship the main character has with another human is not with the handsome and powerful prince but a gruff and awkward fellow ruhker.

I like how the author evokes both dragons and falcons in her depiction of rocs and their handlers:

“A bird as large as a roc is not elegant in takeoff or landing. Minu was a maelstrom of feathers and mad exertion as her massive wings pummeled the air. Darius had chosen this spot for its higher elevation, which made it easier for her to get airborne. Minu spread her wings and rode the downslope of the land, gaining speed, nearly skimming the ground. She pumped hard, once, twice, three times, flattening the grass below with the wind, and caught an air current that lifted her up and away from us in a straight line. When she was far enough to be a small silhouette, she curved in a long arc and circled back toward us. Darius watched her with one hand shielding his eyes. I watched too, my heart in my throat at her beauty.”

I have not read Fonda Lee before, but I will certainly seek out other titles by her based on this novella. If you are looking for a short immersive read that will probably make you wish a whole series will follow, I recommend Untethered Sky. I read an advance reader copy from Netgalley.

Untethered Sky is scheduled to be published on April 11, 2023 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in multiple formats.