“Claim the stars.”
Have you ever loved an author so much that you’re actually afraid to read anything outside of the series by them you’ve come to adore? That’s how I feel about Brandon Sanderson. I love everything about his Cosmere, and all of the series that comprise it. From Mistborn to Stormlight, from Elantris to Warbreaker, he’s crafted some of the most unique magic systems I’ve ever witnessed, and I love that such wildly different series all tie into a bigger picture that is still being woven. Because of my deep adoration of the Cosmere, I’ve been hesitant to read Sanderson’s other works. I read the first Alcatraz book and thought it was fun and cute, but that’s as far as I’ve been able to go. His young adult works, The Reckoners trilogy and Skyward, gave me even more pause, because young adult is a genre that is very hit-or-miss for me. There are so many tropes that have been done to death in the YA genre: love triangles and a special girl who refuses to realize she’s special being among those most often used and happen to be my least favorites. Thankfully, neither of those were present in Skyward. Actually, there wasn’t any real romance. Which I found very refreshing for a young adult book.
“You find a way, and you defy them. For those of us who don’t have the courage.”
Honestly, I would have never given Skyward a chance if I had purchased the US edition from my local bookstore, as I found the cover art repellently YA. I don’t usually judge books too harshly by their covers, but for some reason this particular cover was a big turn off for me. I’m also not the biggest fan of science fiction, so the synopsis wasn’t a huge draw, either. Thankfully a friend (Petrik) sent me the UK edition as a gift, and I found that cover captivatingly beautiful. (Isn’t it super pretty?) After hearing its praises sung by two other friends (TS and Eon) whose opinions I trust without reservation, I decided to give it a try. And I’m very glad I did. Skyward is a fast-paced sci-fi coming of age story about a girl who has been made an outcast fighting for her dreams of becoming a pilot and of clearing her father’s name. In a society where being Defiant is glorified but also twisted into a demand for conformity, how can one girl’s true defiance change that society, and will that change be for good or ill?
“To survive, our people have become necessarily hardened, but alongside it we have enslaved ourselves.”
Spensa has dreamed of being a pilot since she was old enough to dream. Her father was a phenomenally gifted pilot and wants nothing more than to follow in his footsteps. Even when he is branded a coward and shot down by his own flight, Spensa refuses to believe what the world has to say about the man she adored more than anyone. The powers that be are determined to refuse Spensa any and all access to flight school, going so far as to deny her the ability to take the entrance exam that is considered a basic right on Detritus. Detritus is the planet, if it can even be called such, that served as the site for the ship Defiant’s crash landing a few generations ago. Since that time, the crew has split off from one another and made clans of their own as they reproduced. The Krell, an alien race bent on the destruction of Detritus, gives the Defiants hell, and the Defiants give it right back through their pilot program. The entire society is shaped around fighting the Krell, so pilots are heroes in the eyes of every single citizen. All except for Spensa’s father, that is. She grew up under the shadow of his purported cowardice and has been treated like a leper her entire life. Flight school is the way to change all of that. But, more than the respect it would buy her, Spensa yearns to fly; it’s become a need.
“We must not cower in the dark because we’er afraid of the spark within us. The answer is not to put out the spark, but to learn to control it.”
As Spensa (callsign: Spin) fights for her place, she makes some very interesting friends. The cadets of Skyward flight are varied and interesting and not at all safe from Sanderson killing them off during air battles. I have to say that Kimmalyn (callsign: Quirk) was an easy favorite, and I enjoyed every scene she was a part of. Spensa was a little too much to handle at the beginning of the book, and I found myself constantly rolling my eyes at her overly verbose threats and promises of domination. However, she really grew on me, and she was an easy protagonist to root for. While the student group was a great ensemble cast, the true stars of the show were nonhuman. One is Doomslug, a brightly colored parrot of a slug who came to basically be Spensa’s mascot. Doomslug is also dearly loved by readers and has found her way onto all kinds of merchandise. The other outstanding character of the nonhuman variety is M-Bot, the sassiest ship to ever fly. I adore him. Though, for reasons beyond my ability to understand, I never heard his lines in a male voice in my head. For some odd reason, I always heard Lisa Kudrow. Weird, I know.
“The warrior’s way was not to run from failure, but to own up to it and do better.”
While not a part of the Cosmere, Skyward was blessed with the epic Sanderlanche that his fans have come to expect. The last hundred pages of the book were wild, and felt like they happened at a breakneck speed. There were epic battles and revelations and constant brushes with death. It was truly epic. I expected to not be able to connect with the action quite as much as I do with that found in the Cosmere novels, because I’ve never been a fan of dogfights via planes or jets or other air ships. However, Sanderson did a marvelous job of conveying these dogfights in such a way that I completely connected with the action and was reading on the edge of my seat with bated breath.
“It has always seemed to me…that a coward is a person who cares more about what people say than about what is right. Bravery isn’t about what people call you, Spensa. It’s about who you know yourself to be.”
Action wasn’t the only successful portion of this book. There was a good deal of character development on Spensa’s end and among her friends. And, as with all of his books I’ve read thus far, Sanderson was able to incorporate some truly deep, philosophical topics in ways that never seemed heavy handed. What separated the coward from the courageous? Are personal failings ever hereditary? Is something right simply because that’s the way things have always been done? Can honoring tradition be a slow poison in a society as easily as it can be a strength?
“You get to choose who you are. Legacy, memories of the past, can serve us well. But we cannot let them define us. When heritage becomes a box instead of an inspiration, it has gone too far.”
I’ve heard this book compared to Ender’s Game, which is possibly my favorite sci-fi book of all time. And I can totally see that comparison. For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, Skyward didn’t hit me as powerfully as Ender’s story, and I’m not sure it’s going to have the same kind of staying power in my mind. However, it’s a good story very well told, and I’m eager to see where Spensa and Detritus go from here.
You can purchase a copy of the book here, with free shipping worldwide!