Skyward: Fighting for the stars

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson YA fantasy book reviewsSkyward by Brandon Sanderson YA fantasy book reviewsSkyward by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson’s new young adult science fiction novel, Skyward (2018), replaces his intricately detailed fantasy magical systems with equally detailed dogfights between one-person starship fighters of the humans living on the planet Detritus (it’s as bleak as it sounds) and the starships of the alien Krell. The Krell chased a fleet of human spaceships to Detritus decades ago and have pinned them down on the planet since, frequently bombarding the humans with attacks that threaten to wipe out the colony, where people primarily live underground for safety.

Spensa Nightshade’s father died years ago during a major battle against the Krell. Though other families of spaceship pilots are lauded by the colony, “Chaser” Nightshade was accused of being a coward, fleeing the Krell forces and being shot down and killed by his own flight in retribution and as an example to others. That cowardice label has lasted through the nine years since his death, continuing to haunt his family and his daughter, Spensa. As a result, at age eighteen she’s a rebellious hothead with a huge chip on her shoulder, and a fiery determination to win a place to be trained as a starship pilot and prove herself as the bravest fighter, ever. Defiant isn’t just a description of the human’s military forces to Spensa; it’s deeply ingrained in her nature.

Unfortunately for Spensa, there are influential people who are equally determined to see that she does not get a chance to join the Defiant Defense Force’s flight school or graduate as a pilot, convinced that the “defect” in her father is also in the daughter. When she manages to land one of the few spots in the program ― barely, through a combination of hard study, stubbornness and luck ― her troubles aren’t over, by a long shot. Denied the right to live in the school’s dorms or even use the cafeteria, Spensa sets up house in a cave where during a previous excursion she had found a very old, damaged starfighter with (it turns out) a very quirky AI named M-Bot.

Spensa divides her time between her pilot training classes and trying her hand at secretly repairing the old Starfighter. But the Krell are gradually decimating the human starfighter forces, and Spensa and her classmates are thrown into action against the Krell far sooner than they are ready to handle it.

After a slightly weak beginning ― Spensa’s brash character and simmering anger got old for me, though I had to admire her sheer determination and refusal to ever give up ― Skyward gains traction and briskly works its way up to an impressive finish. Most of the time in between is spent with training in the semi-military space pilot school for Spensa and her group of ten eighteen-year-old classmates, and with frequent individual spacecraft battles with the Krell aliens. If that sort of story sounds appealing, Skyward should be just the ticket. Though the main emphasis is on action, Skyward also includes some deeper insights into character, and has some excellent points to make about what truly constitutes bravery and cowardice.

A solid dose of humor is provided by an odd cave creature that Spensa adopts as a mascot of sorts, delightfully naming it Doomslug, and by the personable AI M-Bot.

Brandon Sanderson

“Not that I require affirmation of any sort, as my emotions are mere simulations … but you are listening to me, right?”

 

“I’m listening,” I said. “I’m just thinking.”

 

“That is good. I should not like to be maintained by one who lacks brain functions.”

The characters in Skyward are, for the most part, familiar types, but they’re still engaging, not to mention quite diverse in their internal and external makeups. Not just Spensa but several of her classmates grow and change significantly through their experiences. The plot is enjoyable, if somewhat predictable, but a few twists toward the end shed a surprising new light on several characters, as well as the ongoing wars with the Krell.

The ending of Skyward is open-ended, since this is the first book in Sanderson’s new SKYWARD series, but the main plot threads reach a reasonable stopping ― or at least pausing ― point, while leaving me anxious to see where the series goes next. I’ll be watching for the sequel!

Published in November 2018. From Brandon Sanderson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Reckoners series, Words of Radiance, and the internationally bestselling Mistborn series, comes the first book in an epic new series about a girl who dreams of becoming a pilot in a dangerous world at war for humanity’s future. Spensa’s world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what’s left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa’s dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with her father’s — a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa’s chances of attending flight school at slim to none. No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, yet fate works in mysterious ways. Flight school might be a long shot, but she is determined to fly. And an accidental discovery in a long-forgotten cavern might just provide her with a way to claim the stars.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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2 comments

  1. Marion /

    I love the idea of the AI and the cave creature. Spensa sounds like a character I’ve seen many times before, but the actions seems brisk and exciting.

    • “Spensa sounds like a character I’ve seen many times before, but the actions seems brisk and exciting.” <--- That's a very fair assessment. And as long as the reader is expecting a fun, exciting adventure and not a whole lot more, that's great. Like my husband and I say about superhero movies, it's doing exactly what it set out to do, and there's nothing wrong with that.

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