An immediately atmospheric book, Flight: The Call of the Rift plunges you from the very first page into a beautiful and remarkably constructed fantasy world. The map on the inside cover helps to orient you, but it is the skilful description by author Jae Waller that immerses you in the world she has created.
The naturally beautiful setting in the home of a jouyen community called the Rin, where seventeen-year-old Kateiko yearns of a more exciting life. Her small village has been ravaged by war and separated from their nearest allies – in some cases, their own family – since the end of the conflict.
Kateiko has not heard from her cousin who married into a different jouyen in years. She hopes that by marrying outside of her community, she too can find new meaning and reconnect with her lost family.
Despite the protest of her remaining family, Kateiko leaves, accompanied by her best friend. She finds that the world outside is just as battle-torn as her home and is confronted at every corner with her own naïveté. Worse still, she learns that the world is struggling to recover from the war and that tensions are high between different communities, spurred on by mythical spirits that don’t have anyone’s best interests at heart.
Between her stubbornness and outspokenness, not to mention water summoning powers, Kateiko ends up closer to the eye of the storm than she had ever planned.
The different cultures in this book are incredibly well developed. A huge amount of detail has gone into differentiating between communities that live very closely together and, to the untrained eye, might seem identical. The subtle details are woven throughout the story, so that you get a very firm idea of Kateiko’s identity as a member of her jouyen even as she grows into a complex young woman. They help to frame the story as being from her particular perspective and make it really easy to empathise with her as a character.
The entire story world is established very quickly and is built up through the story with an impressive fluidity. The balance between explaining what Kateiko already knows and showing the things that she learns about is masterfully implemented so that any information you need is effortlessly delivered through the narrative.
From the very beginning, the importance of friendship in this book is imperative. Kateiko is strong and independent and quick-witted, but her friends bring out all of these positive qualities in her tenfold.
The relationships around her are wonderfully written too, and develop realistically whether or not she is there to witness it. It is very clear that Waller has planned every character’s story very thoroughly. In fact, every aspect of this novel has evidently been intricately planned. Minute details not only build a consistent and fascinating world, but also plant clues about the revelations late in the book and maybe even in the rest of the series to come.
It is very easy to fall into Kateiko’s perspective. She is far from a perfet character – she is a disobedient, stubborn teenager, but she is ultimately good-hearted and it’s not hard to empathise with her ambitions. She grows up a lot between the beginning and the end of the book, forced into maturity by impending war. She learns a lot about the harsh nature of reality, something that most young adults can relate to, as well as developing her magical powers in ground-breaking ways.
At times, it is genuinely inspiring to see her grow and become the kind of female character that the fantasy genre is sorely lacking. She is definitely made of the kind of stuff that can easily carry the rest of the series. Her adventure takes her to new towns and cities, to meet a wonderfully diverse assortment of new people. Kateiko approaches all of them with openness and trust and, though not everyone offers her the same courtesy, it makes her more friends than enemies.
Throughout the book, the sense of urgency is very clear in a world where evil spirits toy with the conflicts between men. There are moments, however, when the tension loses some of its impact. This makes sense when you consider that this is the first in a series that will inevitably need to get darker as the war finally breaks. But that doesn’t quite explain why Kateiko would stop to go swimming with her friends when there is so much at stake. But those moments are few and fleeting. They don’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the book at all.
It’s a wonderful story that draws you into an incredible world with realistic and gripping conflicts. This book is a terrific introduction to a series that feels like it is on the brink of a magnificent and brutal adventure.