The Wings Upon Her Back

A loyal warrior in a crisis of faith must fight to regain her place and begin her life again while questioning the events of her past. This gripping science-fantasy novel from a Nebula and Locus Award-winning debut author is a complex, action-packed exploration of the costs of zealous faith, brutal war, and unquestioning loyalty.

Five gods lie mysteriously sleeping above the city of Radezhda. Five gods who once bestowed great technologies and wisdom, each inspiring the devotion of their own sect. When the gods turned away from humanity, their followers built towers to the heavens to find out why. But when no answer was given, the collective grief of the sects turned to desperation, and eventually to war.

Zenya was a teenager when she ran away from home to join the mechanically-modified warrior sect. She was determined to earn mechanized wings and protect the people and city she loved. Under the strict tutelage of a mercurial, charismatic leader, Zenya became Winged Zemolai.

But after twenty-six years of service, Zemolai is disillusioned with her role as an enforcer in an increasingly fascist state. After one tragic act of mercy, she is cast out, and loses everything she worked for. As Zemolai fights for her life, she begins to understand the true nature of her sect, her leader, and the gods themselves.


"THE WINGS UPON HER BACK is a triumphant debut novel. The complex narrative examines the intricacies of blind devotion, self-image, and the hidden motivations behind martial control. For fans of C.L. Clark’s The Unbroken looking for a timely perspective on the human cost of destructive nationalism."

Booklist, Starred Review!

"Mills debuts with an intricate and intriguing science fantasy... This cathartic adventure will stay with readers long after the final page."

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review!

"An absolute must-read—to paraphrase a line from the novel, fantasy fans will find themselves in literary heaven."

Kirkus, Starred Review!

"Mills’s debut novel is complex and haunting, filled with beautiful prose and timely themes of political and religious upheaval and personal journeys."

Library Journal, Starred Review!

"'The Wings Upon Her Back' keeps up a brisk pace but makes time for beautiful character moments and genuinely provocative ideas about the nature of cities and the role of religion in society... [A] near-perfect novel that we’ll be hearing about for a long time."

The Washington Post

"The Wings Upon Her Back is a powerful epic of corruption and disillusionment"


"Mills delivers her first novel, and its universal acclaim mark this as one of the most notable debuts of the year.”


"Fast, fun, and set in a brilliant science fantasy world, The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills is one of those really good books that reaches into your own life experience to draw upon memories that drive your emotional reaction to the story."

Grimdark Magazine

"This novel is worthy of the same praise as 'Rabbit Test'—old and new fans of Samantha Mills’ work will not be disappointed by The Wings Upon Her Back. Mills once again uses speculative fiction to explore important issues around gender and politics, and the novel has left me eager to read more of her work."

Ancillary Review of Books

"The Wings Upon Her Back is a wonderful story, filled with chases, conspiracies and fights blended with personal crisis. It’s very human in nature, and I loved the whole concept of wings – mecha wings, which you need to master, a heavy (in the literal sense as well – the wings are weighty) price for being able to soar in the sky, their burden, their restrictions, the wiring which they need. All of these details resonate with the main themes of the story and serve as perfect metaphors and symbols."

British Fantasy Society

"[A]n impressive debut novel with vivid imagery, compelling characters, and action-packed sentences."

Fantasy Book Critic

"Though its battle scenes are riveting and the drama nail-bitingly intense, The Wings Upon Her Back is ultimately a story of redemption"

Book Browse

"THE WINGS UPON HER BACK is a masterful fantasy novel in which a powerful woman confronts the threats of fascism, zealous faith, and disillusionment."

Foreword Reviews

"I picked up The Wings Upon Her Back because I was intrigued by the idea of mechanical angels protecting a city. I got so much more than I bargained for: a story of fascism and abuse, of resilience and rebuilding, of loss and pain and sorrow. This is a poignant but worthwhile read, one I highly recommend when you are ready for it."

Kara Reviews

"Craft-wise, THE WINGS UPON HER BACK is immaculate. No sentence fails to draw emotion or pull the reader into Zemolai’s fraught world, and the story unfolds with a precision reminiscent of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. But most affecting was Zemolai’s reckoning with her relationship to fascism and what it means to be on the right side of history. As soon as I finished The Wings Upon Her Back, I flipped back to the first page and started reading again. Mills has created a science fantasy masterpiece, every bit as brilliant and trenchant as copper wings glinting on the horizon."

Wulfe Wulfemeyer, bookseller at Raven Book Store

“An intense, astute, and moving tale of redemption, by turns relentlessly grim and courageously hopeful.”

Kate Elliot, author of Unconquerable Sun and Servant Mage

“I’ve been hoping for a novel from Samantha Mills for years, ever since first stumbling upon her short story ‘Strange Waters.’ THE WINGS UPON HER BACK didn’t disappoint, giving us a thoughtful, wrenching, and beautifully crafted story of disappointment, failure, and redemption.”

C.L. Clark, author of The Unbroken

"Razheda is a city fallen to fascism, and Zemolai is at once a hero, a villain, and a victim. Mills weaves a deft and jagged narrative of choices and consequences, raw and real and heartbreaking, as a girl fights to achieve her goal, and the woman she becomes has to live with the consequences to herself, her family, her society. Zenya's rise and Zemolai's fall mirror the city's political crisis, and while Mills offers no easy remedies or resolutions, she does give us--and Zemolai--some hope and a satisfying shot of vindication."

K. Eason, author of The Weep duology and The Thorne Chronicles

"The prose in Samantha Mills' THE WINGS UPON HER BACK is truly incredible. Every sentence beautifully written, her worldbuilding is both refreshing and captivating. Readers will appreciate an older MC and the extensive cast around her. A really fun read!"

Charlie N. Holmberg author of Spellbreaker or Keeper of Enchanted Rooms

"The Wings Upon Her Back is a gripping, gorgeous exploration of the perils of worshipping gods and humans alike. It’s a book that refuses to look away from the damage that can be wrought by misplaced faith, but one that simultaneously insists on the possibility of redemption. Samantha Mills deftly undercuts any easy judgments, creating in Zemolai a character who is both flawed and deeply relatable. I couldn’t put it down!"

Emet North, author of In Universes

"A fierce, aching battle cry of a book, both cinematically epic and painfully intimate. Mills has crafted a striking world of sleeping gods, disillusioned revolutionaries, and metal wings -- and from it, she wrenches equal amounts of love and pain."

Julie Leong, author of The Teller of Small Fortunes

"Samantha Mills has crafted a truly innovative world filled with deeply flawed, compelling characters. A thought-provoking and achingly beautiful story of faith, doubt, regret, and redemption."

Amy Avery, author of The Longest Autumn

"Mills once again uses speculative fiction to explore important issues around gender and politics, and the novel has left me eager to read more of her work."

Ancillary Review of Books