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I'm looking for the title of a fantasy novel I started reading but never finished. I would have read it in the late 90's/early 00's and I checked out of a library in the UK. Here a the plot details I remember:

The setting was a series of islands that floated in the sky on which were built various cities and towns. The islands did not float above anything; as far as the characters were concerned, these flying islands were all there was to the world and they were surrounded by clouds, obscuring any 'ground' there might be. People travelled between the islands either on the backs of dragons or via floating airships. At one point there is a digression where the protagonist justifies using an airship over a dragon (or vice versa) and talks about the pros and cons of each method.

Below this human occupied layer of islands was a second layer of floating islands inhabited by some kind of dwarf like creatures who worked constantly to maintain some form of mysterious machine. They called the machine something ridiculous like the 'Kicksi-Winsi'. Neither layer of islands was aware of the others existence.

It's possible there was another race that lived with the humans. Possibly the humans favored airships and the other race rode dragons? I may be misremembering this and it may have just been different human cultures.

I also recall that the novel had two authors because I remember my Dad telling me he didn't think a novel with two authors would be any good.

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"Kicksi-Winsi" makes it very apparent that you're talking about a novel in The Death Gate Cycle by Weis and Hickman (published 1990-1994). The air world of Arianus is supposed to have the floating islands supplied with water by a machine called the "Kicksey-winsey."

Arianus has 3 levels of islands, though the top one is effectively uninhabitable at the time of the story because the air pressure has dropped too low for people to live on it. Elves and humans live on the middle layer, and dwarves (called "Gegs") live on the lowest layer, just above the Maelstrom. This is where the Kicksey-winsey is located, which the dwarves try to take care of without really understanding it.

You probably read the first book of the series Dragon Wing which takes place largely on Arianus and introduces its peoples and the Kicksey-winsey machine.

Unfortunately the actual story drags out the reveal of the structure of Arianus over many chapters, so I can't find a good overall quote. But the book is available to borrow at the Internet Archive.

Cover of "Dragon Wing" showing a dragon in flight with 2 riders, above a castle on a hill surrounded by fields and forest, with a mountain in the background.

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    That sounds like a pretty good match to me. Although I never realized it was part one of a seven book series!
    – Matt
    Jul 20, 2022 at 21:30
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This is also a partial match to the second book "The Lost Star's Sea" in the "Lost Star Stories" duology by C. Litka. This is available for free from a number of retailers, including the linked one above.

In this story (but not the first story in the duology), the main character travels through a series of islands floating in the ever-bright and habitable atmosphere of a star/super-planet, having numerous adventures along the way. The islands are known as the Pela. The atmosphere has a bright spot that is presumed to be the centre of the star/planet and islands float around this in more-or-less static positions, only adjusted by air-currents and collisions. There are cloud banks found around the islands and these sometimes obscure the islands, but it is well known there is no permanent inhabitable land below the floating islands.

The travel between islands is largely by airships and air-ship like devices fitted with wings and propellers powered by humans (pedaled), steam, or by electricity.

These adventures include encounters with a range of telepathic dragons, including a couple of smaller "domestic" dragons who act as foils for the plot. The main character also comes across larger, also telepathic dragon species, and large "lizard dragons", which are not telepathic. There is no mention of riding the dragons. There are also red human-like bird creatures known as the "Scarlet Guard of the Dragon Kings", which the protagonist encounters in some major plot points.

The Dragon Kings are a mysterious/mythical race of dragons said to be the true rulers of the Pela and act as "unknown enemy" sort of threat. According to legend they have airships large enough to push the floating islands around and have advanced technology and weaponry. There are numerous groups of islands each with different technologies and levels of society and there are presumed to be many more unknown ones too, besides the mythical dragon kings.

The islands, which have little gravity are populated by broad- and fine-feathered humans, with fine-feathered being humans with hair, and broad being human-like but with feathers instead of hair. The broad-feathered and fine-feathered get along well, but the fine-feathered tend to live in bigger cities and have more advanced technology, while the broad-feathered live in more primitive communities, often on the "shadow side" (i.e. away from the bright central spot in the atmosphere), where it is cooler and harder to grow crops etc.

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