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 really hard novella to sum up without giving away spoilers, so I’m just going to jump right into the review. Lee has this knack for writing incredibly brutal and harsh worlds and characters, but ensuing that you fall in love with them all the same, and this book was no different. The story is told through Eater’s pov & we see her life through both present tense and flashbacks to her past, we get to witness her trauma right along side her, seeing her mother and younger brother brutally attacked by a manticore, which makes it easy for us to empathise with her need to become a ruhker. She leads a fairly solitary life, but that all changes when she is bonded with Zahra. Not only does she now have a roc under her care, but she finds friends and gradually starts to grow into the strong and unyielding person she needs to be to hunt down the manticores.
Lee manages to encompass a wealth of world and character building into this novella, which at just over 150 pages was incredibly impressive. But I think the parts I enjoyed the most were at the start of the story, seeing Ester going through the gruelling and dangerous process of trying to bond with and train Zahra. Lee never shies away from the danger, nor the almost repetitive nature of the training, but because of Ester’s investment in becoming a ruhker and the reasons behind it, I was as desperate for her to be successful as she was, and never found it tedious or boring in any way, rather I enjoyed the fact that Lee chose to include what a lot of other authors would have simply skipped past.
Charcter wise, Lee keeps it pretty tight knit which was perfect for the story she was trying to tell. Through her bonding with Zahra, Ester becomes friends with two other ruhkers who play large parts in the story and I enjoyed how these character were both completely different, bringing out completely different sides to Ester herself, but Lee also let them grow and learn and change alongside her. The rocs themselves where also shown to have their own personalities and I adored the fact that Lee wrote them as truly wild animals, there was no mutual bonding, rather our characters were kept on a knife edge, knowing that at any point their rocs could attack, abandon or completely ignore their orders. It’s a rare thing to see in fantasy nowadays, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and it added to the tension and emotion of the story.
It’s a short but sweet story that is just so incredibly realistic in parts, unforgiving and dangerous and I couldn’t help but devour it in one sitting. The world, story and characters are as brutal as in her Greenbone saga, but that just makes it feel all the more real to me. Lee managed to get me, in less than 200 pages, to fall in love with a world and characters and I would definitely return to this world if given the chance. Lee was already one of my favourite authors, but Untethered Sky has definitely cemented this and I can’t wait to pick up whatever she writes next.
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