cover image Untethered Sky

Untethered Sky

Fonda Lee. Tordotcom, $22.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-250-84246-6

In this uneven standalone novella, World Fantasy Award winner Lee (the Green Bone Saga series) conjures a world where giant birds of prey—rocs—are trained by handlers called ruhkers to hunt manticores. After 18-year-old Ester’s mother and brother are killed by manticores, Ester determines to join the ranks of the ruhkers and rid the world of the beasts that destroyed her family. Much of the story consists of her learning to work as a team with her fledgling roc, Zahra, under the guidance of seasoned ruhker Darius and his roc, Minu. Together, Ester and Darius face tragedy and losses that test their strength and perseverance as ruhkers. Unfortunately, the human characters feel disappointingly flat in comparison to the fantastical beasts around them and Ester’s matter-of-fact narration dulls the sense of adventure. Excessive foreshadowing, meanwhile, undermines the suspense. It’s disappointing, because the premise is strong, offering a fresh take on dragon-rider fantasies of yore. Readers who come for the legendary beasts won’t be disappointed, but anyone hoping for more substance can take a pass. (Apr.)