In the back of my ARC of Untethered Sky, there was a short section from Fonda Lee about how she went to a con and got encouraged by authors there to try her hand at writing a novella. She said she had an idea for a short story about a girl who rode cool giant birds. And you know, if that isn’t the best way to describe Untethered Sky I don’t know what else is. This isn’t the deepest or most profound story, but it is a fun tale about really big ass birds called Rocs.
Ester’s family was torn apart when a manticore… well… literally tore them apart. A painfully common monster in this world, these leather-backed scorpion lions are impervious to pretty much all small arms. You would need swords the size of doors to pierce through them, good thing there is a local variety of birds called a roc that has said door swords attached to its feet and has a penchant for manticore killing.
After devastation takes Ester’s family, she decided to give her life to the King’s Royal Mews, where the giant rocs of legend are trained to hunt with dedicated ruhkers. Paired with a fledgling roc named Zahra, Ester finds purpose in her now empty life as she dedicates her entire being to murdering the scourge that took her family from her.
If I had to say the best thing about Untethered Sky it would be vibes. Ester’s entire deal feels frantic and hollow this entire story and it reads like the dark downward spiral of someone who has lost everything and hyper-focuses on something deeply unhealthy to cope. Lee conveys roc training like falconry, which is already hard, but now you have an animal that can kill you at the slightest provocation. On top of all of this, the ruhkers hunt manticore by getting on a horse and using themselves as bait and hoping their roc gets there fast enough. This entire story exudes a miasma of stress and I love it for that. The supporting cast is also delightful. It’s primarily composed of two other ruhkers of very different temperaments and through them, we get to see a deeper look into the different ways that people bond with these monster birds.
As for the negative, the biggest issue is that I don’t feel like there is a lot here other than a cool atmospheric story about birds (which is sometimes all you need). There is some subtext around the inherent nature of monsters and their morality/uses, but it’s not as front and center as it could be. Because of this, Untethered Sky comes off as surprisingly lighthearted despite its very dark vibes which puts it in a strange, but interesting position.
Untethered Sky is a weird little novella that showcases a thick atmosphere and Lee’s renowned prose. It lacks a little substance, but it makes up for it with fun giant birds. If you are looking for A story about ultimate falconry, or if you are a fan of Fonda Lee’s other work, you will probably enjoy this short tale about the healing nature of murdering giant scorpion lions.
Rating: Untethered Sky – 7.5/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.