Change Is Not Collapse: Alex London’s Gold Wings Rising

Which came first, the falcon or the egg?

It doesn’t matter in the end. They will keep creating each other until they go extinctor they evolve into something new. 

Gold Wings Rising wraps up Alex London’s intense, evocative Skybound Saga with a deeply satisfying conclusion that both builds on the established world and subverts its very foundations. Brutal, evocative, and brimming with heart and hope, Gold Wings Rising is a triumph of a final installment.

Kylee and Brysen find themselves and their friends adrift in a world ravaged by bloodshed and turmoil, one which their own choices helped create. The schism between the villagers and the Kartami cuts deeper than ever, but no one is a match for the burgeoning flock of ghost eagles. Their deadly talons are only one of their most vicious weapons: their more insidious power lies in how they mirror and enhance emotions, how they connect with humans and match their rage, their grief, their terror, baring old wounds to the ice-bright sun. 

All seems nearly lost, when Brysen discovers an item of immeasurable, ancient power. He and Kylee, once so closely aligned, fervently disagree on what to do with it. The stakes skyrocket as their ragtag team clashes with the Owl Mothers, and terrible truths come to light. 

Over the course of the series, Brysen and Kylee have struggled with what it means to have power. To fall victim to it, or to succumb to its intoxicating call. Kylee doesn’t want her affinity for the Hollow Tongue to make a weapon out of her. Brysen wants to be strong enough to save everyone, even now, after he’s lost so much. Here, at the end of this chapter of their stories, they will learn that there are no easy answers. Just as no one creature—neither human nor raptor—is inherently evil, neither is power. It’s a matter of how you choose to wield it: as a weapon, or a tool. To destroy, or to build, and sometimes—maybe more often than not—you can’t have one without the other. Especially when the system in place is built on lies and cycles of pain and cruelty. It doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to stay. Just because something has always been done doesn’t mean we need to keep doing it. Kylee and Brysen must both learn what it might mean to break the cycle. To learn why it fell into practice in the first place, the systems that keep the world trapped within it. To not only reckon with morality in a complex, brutal world, but to interrogate the very inception of who defines what is right, who is the hero. Who is writing the story, and who they’re writing it for. To reimagine what it might mean to coexist with one another: not in ignorance of a brutal history, but building forth from it, navigating how to continually choose to do right by one another. 

London expertly crafts all this poignant, powerful work within an action-packed, atmospheric thrill ride of a final installment, deepening the emotional crests of the cast as the stakes on the battlefront  continue to soar. It works because London is a deeply skilled writer—I cannot get enough of his vivid, lyric prose—and he centers so much of the story on found family. Brysen and Kylee’s mistakes are both far-reaching and personal, but their crew is all the stronger for it. There’s so much I adore about these books, but the tenderly crafted relationships will always be one of my favorite elements, and they shine here. They’re queer and intimate and different and growing. The joy of them feels radical against a backdrop of brutality, selfishness, and sharp talons. I love the tenuous, strengthening bonds of trust between Kylee and Grazim, a former rival from the Sky Castle. Kylee’s aroace, and it’s wonderful to see such an important relationship thrive outside of allosexuality, here on the page of a YA fantasy. And Brysen! Once, he poured too much of himself into something poisonous, and now, with Jowyn, he gets to thrive. Their dynamic is complex too, as they navigate both of their pasts, and figure out the best way forward from within a murky, dangerous landscape. And they’re stronger for it, as they walk that path together. They are impossibly sweet, between Jowyn’s bawdy rhymes and Brysen’s burgeoning self-confidence, their relationship a growing sunbeam of warmth and trust in the dark night of their quest.

And then there’s the sibling dynamic between the twins themselves. London grows them so spectacularly over the course of this series. It’s a messy, confusing crisis of becoming, of learning each of their own potentials for healing and for harm—which is always the case even if one’s adolescence doesn’t coincide with the impending threat of war and killer eagles. As each strengthens in their independence, they also discover the connections between them that will never break. 

It is through one of these connections that they delve into the myths that made their people, their way of life. Together, Brysen and Kylee bear witness to the lies they’ve all been told of their history. The cycles of ancestral trauma. Knowing is not enough. Even breaking the cycle is not enough. They must sit with the agonizing enormity of the truth, experience how it seeps into everything they know and have become, and learn how to build something new. To write a new story, to plant something only once they’ve prepared a place where it will be allowed to thrive. Through each other and their loved ones, they are learning what it means to hope, and how to use that hope to create and reimagine. It won’t be easy, but it is the only choice.  

Some of my favorite YA series endings work because they feel like beginnings, and this one feels so earned. London shows us how difficult it can be to unmake and rebuild, and how irrevocably necessary it is. 

What a shattering, spectacular, thoroughly satisfying finale. What a riotously beautiful, richly imagined epic trilogy. After the first two books, I trusted London would bring us a masterful but brutal ending that would refrain from breaking my heart, and Gold Wings Rising delivers a thousandfold. Throughout terrifying twists and breathtaking action, as a queer reader, I always felt safe within these pages. It’s not only the interpersonal dynamics that read queer, but the story arc, the resolution itself. There isn’t a singular hero or villain. There isn’t a weapon to wield to save the day, or a heart to be won as a trophy. There’s a community, reckoning with its wrongs, working toward something new. 

I couldn’t have expected this conclusion, but it gave me everything I wanted and so much more. The Skybound Saga is a fiercely fun, well-paced fantasy adventure, and it’s also a viciously powerful paean to hope, even and perhaps especially in the shadow of grief. How hope thrives within a community, and how many shapes love can take within one. How it is an act of love to question the patterns of your world, and ask how to best break them to make something better.

Whichever came first, the falcon or the egg, the important thing is how it grows. The shape of its nest, the world it wakes to greet. We have to build a good home. We have to write a new story. 

This one is about healing.

Gold Wings Rising is available from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Read an excerpt here.

Maya Gittelman is a queer Pilipinx-Jewish diaspora writer and poet. Their cultural criticism has been published on The Body is Not An Apology and The Dot and Line. Formerly the events and special projects manager at a Manhattan branch of Barnes & Noble, she now works in independent publishing, and is currently at work on a novel.


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