01/07/2009. Contributed by Vikki Green
pub: Gollancz. 601 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-08371-4.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk and www.jayamory.com
This is an omnibus edition of 'The Fledging Of Az Gabrielson' and 'Pirates Of The Restless Desert' by Jay Amory. He has created an intriguing and absorbing world of cities perched on columns above the clouds and a dim earthbound world beneath. The story begins with the hero, Az Gabrielson, the Wingless Boy of the title, being provoked into a violent reaction to a taunt about his disability by a sinister stranger. It turns out he has been chosen by the Airborn's rulers at the Silver Sanctum to go down to the ground and see why the Groundlings have not been sending supplies up to the Airborn.
He has been chosen for this task because, unlike the other Airborn, he has no wings and would be able to pass as a Groundling. The provocation is a test to see how he would react on the ground below. Az finds a terrifying world ruled by the Deacons who control the supplies going into the sky cities' elevators and grow fat on the labours of the Groundlings. They maintain their control through a quasi-religious cult which brainwashes the Groundlings into believing they will Ascend and be reincarnated as the Airborn when they die.
Az has arrived at a time of revolution and is caught up in the dispute between the Humanists and the Deacons. He is taken in by the Grubdollar family after they rescue him from a pack of predatory Verms. He is ill with a reverse form of altitude sickness and doesn't realise that the two sons, Martin and Fletch, want to give him up to the Humanists and Cassie, the daughter, is contemplating selling him to the Deacons. Az has a nasty encounter with the leader of the Humanist faction at Grimvale before Cassie helps him return home.
The second part opens with an uneasy truce between the Airborn and Groundlings, there are extremist organisations on both sides trying to ferment trouble between the two. The truce is strained by a pirate attack on a Groundling oil installation from a renegade airship from Redspire, one of the Airborn cities.
Az is tasked to deal with it as feelings against the Groundlings begin to take extreme forms. He takes an old troopship to Redspire to begin the hunt for the pirates. Cassie, in the meantime, is having to hold her family together after the traumatic time they had in the first book. She is making a living giving tours of Grimvale to Airborn tourists in their murk-comber. Her father is ill as a result of the events of the previous book. The Deacon's power is broken, as is that of the Humanist faction. However, feelings against the Airborn are running high. Feelings grounded on disappointment that they are only human and that the Airborn can pay for their goods with luxury items which aren't really a lot of value on the ground. When Cassie's father disappears with one of the Deacons, she takes her family to find him. They are joined by Az's brother, Michael, and his new wife, Aurora.
Both quests come together in one of the most tense and realistic aerial battles I've read in a long time. The villains of both books - Adam Steamarm, the Humanist extremist; Deacon Shatterlonger, whose insanity almost destroys Grimvale and the city above; Deacon Hardscree, whose blind determination to have vengeance on the Airborn for only being human almost kills Cassie's father and brother to Naoutha Nisrocsdaughter the psychotic villain of Pirates of the Relentless Desert.
There is a huge cast of characters here, all of whom are equally memorable from Michael, Az's winged brother; Aurora, Michael's wife; Adam Steamarm, Den Grubdollar, Cassie's father; Cassie herself, Mr Mordadson, Az's mentor and Az. All of them come to vivid life during their scenes. The lead character, Az Gabrielson, is an engaging hero who doesn't allow his disability to stop him from living his life to the maximum and giving of his best in whatever situation he finds himself. He doesn't allow himself to be held back and will keep trying until he succeeds in what he has set out to do.
This is a Young Adult book and is aimed at the older section of the readership, the action doesn't stop and every action has its consequences both good and bad. Character's motives aren't always straightforward nor are they clear from the start. Several characters actually take some surprising twists in their arc through the two books.
This is a richly detailed world, the sky cities held up on their pillars above the clouds, the Airborn race depending on the labours of the Groundlings below. The catastrophe that led to the sky cities and the cloud cover is hinted at only, Craterholm is the most explicit mention as it is built in the craters left by the meteorites that destroyed the world's ecology and forced some into the skies while others remained below. Most of the Airborn had forgotten the Groundlings existed and thought their supplies were coming from the labours of giant machines on the planet's surface. The news that the Groundlings exist and their lives were pretty grim changes Airborn society for the better in that they are now contributing towards the Groundling economy. However, extremist anti-Groundling organisations such as Feathers First! are trying to disrupt the fragile peace negotiated between the Groundlings and the Airborn.
The Groundling world is just as richly detailed, from the vile Verms who hunt in packs to the hackerjackals of the Relentless Desert. The gloom from the permanent cloud cover and the sheer hard workpeople have to do to eke a living on the ground is beautifully contrasted with the leisurely lives the Airborn live above them.
It was utterly absorbing and frankly, I can't wait to get on the next volume to see how it all ends.
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