Book Review : Untethered Sky

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : Untethered SkyUntethered Sky by Fonda Lee
Published by Tordotcom on April 11th 2023
Pages: 160
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Source: NetGalley

From World Fantasy Award-winning author Fonda Lee comes Untethered Sky, an epic fantasy fable about the pursuit of obsession at all costs.
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 the first time I’ve read any of Fonda Lee’s works. And while I knew my failure to read her works was a crime even before reading Untethered Sky, I am now unquestionably certain that I must read more of the author’s works as soon as possible. Immediately, I was sucked into the world of Untethered Sky, where ruhkers train with massive and deadly birds known as rocs.


“Some say ruhking is a calling. For me it was an answer to a question that had bored clear through my soul….People have admired rocs for centuries. Artists paint them, sculpt them, tell stories about them. I wanted to be one. I wanted to be the monster that kills other monsters.”


Ester, the protagonist and narrator, is a young woman who has dreamed of becoming a ruhker ever since the day a manticore killed and ate her mother and younger brother. As Untethered Sky begins, she carefully forms a bond with a Roc of her very own, named Zahra, and begins both of their training as the ultimate predator to the universally feared manticore. I am always a sucker for books where humans are prey, but Lee effortlessly renders manticores as the ultimate killing machine and they are truly goosebump raising creatures.


Most of Ester’s feelings of self-worth come from her career as a ruhker and the knowledge that she and her Roc are providing a service that will save countless lives and is a job that only she and her fellow ruhkers can do. Despite Ester’s love and adoration for the prowess and majesty of her own roc, Untethered Sky does not shy away from the fact that these massive birds of prey are giant and fierce killing machines. Though painstakingly trained, the amount of control the ruhkers have over these beasts is limited and precarious, and these wild creatures can do a lot of damage.


Untethered Sky is not afraid to show the violence of the profession of ruhkers. There are a lot of depictions of gore in this novella. Rocs tear open their prey to feast, savoring organs, and munching down right in front of the ruhker. As an animal lover, I really didn’t enjoy these graphic depictions of the hunt and its result, but I recognize that Fonda uses these scenes to once again demonstrate the tenuous condition of the bond between human and nature—the line between human and predator.


“Any defiance of the wild leads at best to a fragile, temporary victory. Nature and fate are their own capricious monsters, ones that cannot be tamed any more than a roc every truly belongs to her ruhker.”


The novella begs the question of how much these prized creatures are able to return the love of their handlers, who make their rocs their entire, often short-lived, lives. Are monsters trained to kill other monsters truly capable of love or affection? And if these fearsome birds are even capable of returning this love at all, where is the limit? At what point does that affection end?


Lee’s writing was absolutely captivating to me, she manages to show so much by saying very little. I was moved to tears on multiple occasions while reading Untethered Sky, so invested was I in the world, its characters, and the story. Though Untethered Sky was only a 160 page novella, I was completely immersed in the world and never wanted the story to end—I wanted more. I would have loved to read more detail of Ester’s life as a child, how exactly she came to be a ruhker, and more exposition of things that took place off of the page—like when she and her fellow ruhker, Darius, grew closer.


Because I loved this novella so much, I couldn’t help but to be disappointed by all of the things that happened off page and were only alluded to. I wanted to experience all of it first hand and was saddened when I didn’t have that opportunity. Regardless of this, I’d read an entire series based in Untethered Sky’s world in a heartbeat. And I certainly will be checking out more of Fonda Lee’s works in the very near future.

Book Review : Untethered Sky - Blogging with Dragons

Posted November 15, 2022 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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2 responses to “Book Review : Untethered Sky

  1. kamifurr

    I haven’t read anything by this author, but it sounds fascinating. Rocs are one of my favorite mythical creatures, and I’ve never read a book with one in it. I’m so intrigued.

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