Starsight by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Skyward (Book 2 of 4)
Genre: Science fiction, young adult
Published: 26th November 2019 by Gollancz (UK) and Delacorte Press (US)
Starsight proves once again that Brandon Sanderson is a masterful storyteller across genres and age groups, and who simply excels at writing sequels.
I’m actually at a loss as to how to start or write this review without sounding like a broken record. As far as I’m concerned, Sanderson is a genius and he has never failed to deliver a captivating story, whether he was writing adult or young adult, fantasy or science fiction. And after reading so much from him and listening to him talk at signings and interviews, I honestly believed that it comes from his passion in just wanting to tell good stories. Notwithstanding the excellent worldbuilding and fantastic magic systems he is so well-known for these were, first and foremost, stories about people.
A hero does not choose her trials.
Starsight is another damn fine young adult novel by Sanderson. In Skyward, Spensa, a teenage pilot who was trying very hard to proof that she was as brave and courageous as her father, discovered some hard and devastating truths. Her character development in the first book was convincing and realistic for a girl undergoing what she had to. Spensa continued to learn and grow in this sequel, as she was thrown into a position that contradicted her nature, and the stakes were a lot higher as she became embroiled in galactic political machinations. One of the best parts of her characterisation was that the life lessons experience taught her actually stick. In short, she didn’t regress to some of the silly antics that she used to do just for some plot device’s sake. In a couple of early scenes, she readily told the truth about what she was trying to do even though it sounded stupid or dangerous. I really shouldn’t need to mention how this was commendable, but I’m tired of how some authors make their characters lie or withhold information for the sake of creating tension or drama.
Do I even need to mention that the worldbuilding was excellent and fascinating? This is Brandon Sanderson we’re talking about. From the planet Detritus and its orbital platforms to the central seat of power of the universe, the scope of the worldbuilding increased substantially in this sequel. And from the deep and vast ocean of his imagination, Sanderson created and breathed life to a myriad of weird and wonderful alien races or beings that are well-conceived and well-executed. While they may appear strange in their form, physiology, culture and philosophy, I also somehow felt that they were quite believable. It’s really hard for me to explain why without giving away details. This is one of those books that I cannot reveal anything about the plot, for even the book’s synopsis did not say much. I enjoyed myself immensely going in as blind as I could be, so I hoped the same experience could be had for those who read this review.
The themes that Sanderson threaded through this story are highly relevant to what we are facing in our real world; presumption, prejudices, and the inability to understand (or even accept) that which is foreign. These were not done in a preachy nor heavy-handed manner (which is typically not Sanderson’s method, anyway). He was able to achieve this by showing instead of telling, and I’m positive that he just keeps getting better at it with every book he has written. This skill of incorporating the worldbuilding through the eyes of the main character extended to even the ideology or thematic commentary of the story. The realisation of certain ideas or notions hit me at the same time that it hit Spensa. And almost every time it happened, I felt the same emotions that Spensa did. If this is not brilliant writing, I don’t know what is. The worldbuilding and themes were just so seamlessly melded into Spensa’s character growth. I’m not forgetting the fan favourites, of course. The uber-cute Doomslug gained importance to the story, and the ship AI with an attitude, M-Bot, had some interesting developments in his ‘sentience’. M-Bot’s story was quite moving, and I teared up in one scene, which to me demonstrated how powerful this narrative was about an AI who wants to become more than just a programme. Frankly, it is also a bit scary as how would one really know whether M-Bot could morph into something uncontrollable.
“You’ve lived your whole life with autonomy. For me it’s a new, hazardous thing – a weapon I’ve been handed with no instructions. I might be on my way to becoming something terrible, something I don’t understand and cannot anticipate.”
I’ve raved about the dogfighting scenes in my review of Skyward. While there were fewer dogfights in Starsight, there were still enough well-written and awesome action scenes to make this book an exciting and fun read. The big climax at end of this book when we reach the hallmark Sanderlanche was much bigger in scale and quite terrifying. One of the coolest worldbuilding elements in Starsight would fit right into a scifi horror movie. Sanderson’s action scenes are always so cinematic and have such visual clarity. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a magic or space battle, you can see everything that is happening. The use of light-lances was such an inventive way of creating a more dramatic aerial battle scene. It pushes the boundaries of real flight patterns to make it more fantastical, but also seemed highly plausible and infinitely more interesting.
Fast-paced and utterly absorbing, Starsight ended with somewhat of a cliffhanger, but it didn’t leave me feeling unsatisfied. Although I do wish that the third book can be written soon, Sanderson has two Cosmere books to complete next which I’m even more eager to get my hands on.
With Starsight, Spensa’s story has exploded into an exhilarating, high-stakes space adventure filled with the strange and the wonderful, but at the same time, remain grounded with compelling and loveable characters.
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