The Fledging of Az Gabrielson: A YA page turner

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy book reviews Jay Amory The Fledging of Az GabrielsonThe Fledging of Az Gabrielson by Jay Amory

In the wake of a global apocalypse, humans take to the skies, building enormous cities above the encroaching cloud cover, connected to the earth by slender columns. The columns enclose supply elevators that bring essential resources up from the surface to the earth to the Airborn , who are so named because of these cities and because of their giant wings that allow them to fly like angels. All the Airborn have wings, except for the teenager Az Gabrielson, born without the wings that mark everyone else in his society. But when supplies stop coming up from the ground, his lack of wings make him a perfect spy. What very few people in the Airborn society know is that the elevators aren’t supplied by machines, but by Groundlings — humans left behind to maintain the elevators and keep the Airborn society thriving while they live in gloom and squalor on the surface. And what Az finds is that some of the Groundlings are fomenting rebellion and aren’t going to support the Airborn anymore.Pirates Of The Relentless Desert: Bk. 2: The Clouded World Series (Gollancz S.F.) Hardcover – August 16, 2007

The Fledging of Az Gabrielson, the first book in The Clouded World series, is a fast paced young adult adventure novel that sports a cast of highly engaging characters. Jay Amory (pen name of James Lovegrove) has written a sympathetic protagonist in Az, a young man who has faced plenty of challenges in his life as a wingless child in a society designed for people who can fly. The tensions between Az and the adults who have responsibility over him shape him into a young man who is willing to take an enormous risk  to prove his ability and worth in a culture that regards him as a freak or a throwback. When Az gets to the surface and is rescued by the Grubdollar family, his tentative overtures to young Cassie feel emotionally realistic. The interfamilial dynamics, as brothers take sides over the brewing Humanist rebellion, make for compelling fiction. Watching the family ties strain under the weight of betrayal, anger, and competing loyalties gives a layer of emotional realism to this story that many YA action fantasy novels lack.

There is one glaring problem with this story: How do the Airborn get their wings? If it’s evolutionary, there is no way humans could evolve wings within the time frame discussed in the story. If they had wings beforehand — there were two separate races to begin with — then the Groundlings would know who the Airborn were before and wouldn’t have bought into the Airborn-as-deity conceit that is essential to the conflict in the plot. And if the wings were a genetic modification to the race once they move up to the sky cities, why can’t they perform similar gene therapy on Az?

If you can get beyond the question of how the Airborn got their wings to begin with, you will discover that Jay Amory has written an highly enjoyable story with lots of action, endearing characters, and a thoughtful discussion of the politics of disability and exploitation, without getting bogged down in the message. Short chapters and plenty of tightly plotted action combine to make a page-turner of a novel that could be recommended to anyone who likes YA fantasy.

Published in 2006. Az is one of the Airborn. With a stretch and a beat of their eight foot wings his people travel effortlessly around and between their cities, perched high above the clouds. Its a life of ease and airy beauty. Only Az has no wings, so in his glorious world of freedom and flight, he is a painful – and isolated – oddity. And then one day he is picked out for a job. A job below the clouds. The system of massive automated elevators which send up everything the Airborn need to survive, are breaking down – and threatening to take the Airborn society with them. Someone has to go down to the Ground to find out what has happened and Az, with his wingless similarity to the prehistoric Groundlings, looks to be perfect for the task of hunting for answers beneath the clouds. But on the Ground, in the vast shadows of the cities, Az finds more questions than answers: a benighted people who worship a dim notion of the Airborn and aspire to be like them. A people who fill elevators with tributes to their winged deities. A people who are beginning to think their way of life is part of a very un-natural order of things. And a girl called Cassie Grubdollar, who’s definitely no angel …

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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