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The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills

05/06/2024
The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills

Samantha Mills has won Locus and Nebula awards for her short fiction and shows in her debut speculative fiction novel The Wings Upon Her Back that she is no slouch in the long form. The Wings Upon Her Back not only delivers a fascinating and complex world but Mills uses her setting and characters to explore some very real world issues.

The Wings on Her Back opens with Zemolai a loyal and effective warrior in the service of Vodaya, the defacto leader of the city of Radezhda. But a moment of questioning sees her stripped of her mechanical wings and expelled from the tower in which she has trained and lived since joining the warrior order. Zemolai falls into the hands of a group of rebels and slowly learns that perhaps her nascent misgivings about Vodaya’s fascist rule were not completely unfounded. At the same time, Mills charts the journey of Zenya (who becomes Zemolai) from wide eyed neophyte who always just wanted to fly (contrary to her academic upbringing) to a hardened warrior and the way in which Vodaya manipulated and shaped her in this journey.

The world of The Wings on Her Back is a fascinating one. The city of Radezhda is ruled over and divided along the lines of five sleeping gods who float in a strange netherworlds above the city. Each god represents a different discipline but a war between the engineers and the winged soldiers twenty years before was won by the soldier cast led by Vodaya and she has had an iron boot on the city ever since.

But The Wings Upon Her Back is about more than beguiling world building. This is a book about toxic relationships and the impact that they can have on a life. Of the way toxic leaders use power to gaslight and manipulate those who serve them and then rise on the unquestioning loyalty of those they have groomed. And then it is about what happens when that control breaks. Mills explores how someone who breaks free of that control can reclaim their life and their agency and fight the constant pull that years of unquestioning loyalty can place on them. Zenya/Zemolai is a flawed but relatable protagonist and while readers may not always agree with her choices and actions Mills makes sure that they understand them.

With The Wings Upon Her Back Mills has unique and detailed world building to challenge readers but also provide a safe space to explore important and pervasive societal issues. The exploration of these very real issues is at the heart of The Wings Upon Her Back and gives the narrative plenty of thematic depth.

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The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills

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