ARC Review: Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee


Special thanks to Tordotcom for providing a digital ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!

Untethered Sky
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publication Date: 11 April 2023
Genre: Adult Fantasy

Panda Rating:

(5 pandas)


From World Fantasy Award-winning author Fonda Lee comes Untethered Sky , an epic fantasy fable about the pursuit of obsession at all costs.

A Most Anticipated in 2023 Pick for Polygon | Book Riot | Paste Magazine

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.


Animal death, death of family, child death, violence, graphic descriptions, gore, dismemberment

TL;DR: This was a complete departure from her famous Green Bone Saga trilogy but it was no less fantastic. Lee’s ability to pull readers into a story and wholly immerse them into a new world with vivid descriptions and detailed but not overwhelming world-building is, in my humble opinion, unmatched. Don’t expect a fast-paced story as this wasn’t action-packed, but it has more of a quiet ‘slice-of-life’ quality to it that I personally enjoyed. I loved following Ester’s journey as she trains to become a rukher with her roc, Zahra, and the friendships and life lessons she experiences over the course of several years; all culminating in a heartbreaking yet hopeful ending that had me all up in my feels. Pick it up if you love Lee’s work but also pick it up if you want a small taste of how amazing her work is!

Being a massive fan of the author’s famous trilogy meant that I went into this with very high expectations. I mean, it’s kind of hard not to when you love an author’s previous work so much that it very quickly became one of your all-time favourite books and the writer an all-time favourite author. So, big shoes to fill and I shouldn’t have been surprised that Fonda Lee was able to do so because thankfully, Untethered Sky lived up to my expectations but in a very subtle and unexpected way.

I have to say that if you’re looking for an action-packed and “loud” story, this is not it. This is a story about the quiet beauty, power, and unpredictability of nature, about myths and monsters of both the good and bad kinds, and about the bond between humans and animals. It’s about a young woman’s obsession with and love for rocs, the majestic and terrifying giant hunting birds who are trained to kill the monsters who brutally destroyed her family.

In less than 200 pages, Lee proves her talent for storytelling and world-building by creating an immersive world that felt so real. I was completely drawn into this fictional world and absorbed in the life of rukhers. The story is told from Ester’s first-person pov, as she recalls key moments in her life, starting from the devastating and brutal deaths of her family to her journey to becoming a rukher and learning of her admiration and love for rocs. This was a beautiful examination of the bond between humans and animals, particularly wild and deadly creatures who are trained for a specific purpose. The pages are infused with the wonder and respect that Ester feels for her roc, Zahra, and I really enjoyed learning about how rocs are trained, what it means to be a trainer, and how precious the bond is between a rukher and their roc. There’s a “slice-of-life” quality to the story as we follow Ester in her daily tasks, as she bonds with Zahra but also as she builds a life for herself as a rukher, alongside her friends Darius and Nasmin. I really enjoyed how the story focused on the rukher way of life and the world of rukhers, as the kind of “isolated” world matched how the fixation and passion the rukhers had honed in for caring for these birds, which formed their world.

I love that even in a short number of pages, Lee was able to make me care about Ester, Zahra, Darius and even Minu. Although parts of me felt like I was being lulled into a false sense of calm, another part of me was always tensed up and waiting for the chaos to erupt and death to ensue—and that’s not a spoiler but simply because it’s Fonda Lee (and I obviously don’t mean that in a bad way, at all)! 😂 Did I expect to find myself gasping at midnight and subsequently crying into my pillow reading the final section/pages of this book? The strength of emotional attachment I felt for these characters really snuck up on me at the last minute and I found myself feeling heartbroken by the loss but also comforted by the acceptance. Ugh, Lee really had me all up in my feels and I was shook but also awed!

There’s actually so much packed into this novella but it never felt overwhelming or undercooked and while obviously, I would’ve loved to have more time with these characters and to get their story as a full-length novel, this novella felt complete to me; which is an issue I tend to have with novellas. Overall, I would highly recommend this book, especially if you love Lee’s previous works, but also if you want a small taste of the author’s ability to create fantastical worlds and well-rounded characters that you just can’t help but care for.

Have you read Untethered Sky or is it on your TBR?

11 thoughts on “ARC Review: Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s