Cover art illustrated by Sam Green
Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Skyward (Book #1 of 4)
Pages: 544 pages (Hardcover edition)
Publish date: 6th of November 2018 by Delacorte Press (US) & Gollancz (UK)
Skyward is a great and rare example of a YA sci-fi novel done right.
Skyward is the first time I read a YA novel by Brandon Sanderson. At the same time, it has been years since I read any YA novel. This isn’t to say I am totally done with reading YA novels. The fact that I’m reading and reviewing this series right now should prove otherwise. And hey, I still have The Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie and Arc of a Scythe trilogy by Neal Schusterman on my TBR pile. However, I cannot deny I’m incredibly picky over which YA books to read now, definitely even more compared to when I’m picking my preferred adult SFF books to read. From my experience, the most popular and highly praised YA novels like Shades of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab (I’m calling this series a YA series despite its supposedly targeted adult market) and The Six of Crows duology ended up being a disappointment; though I will admit the Six of Crows duology is still good. If there was any YA novel to attempt again, I figured, why not try a highly praised YA series written by Brandon Sanderson, one of my favorite authors of all-time. This is why I read Skyward, and fortunately, this was undeniably a hit with me.
“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.”
The story in Skyward takes place on the planet Detritus, and it is a story about Spensa who dreams of becoming a pilot in a dangerous world at war for humanity’s future. Detritus has been under attack for decades, and pilots are now the remaining heroes of the human race. It is Spensa’s dream to become a pilot. And yet, it is difficult for her to achieve this because her fate is intertwined with her father’s—a pilot who was killed in the prologue when he abruptly deserted his own team. No one will tell Spensa the details of her father’s death, and no one is letting Spensa forget what her father did. But Spensa will not give up. She will enter the flight school no matter what. She is determined to fly, and an accidental discovery might provide her the way to claim the stars.
“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.”
This is the first book in a quartet. Although marketed and targeted to the YA audience, I found the themes and topics explored in Skyward to be applicable to both young adult and adult readers. Just because we have reached adulthood doesn’t guarantee we have realized what we want to become. Sometimes, it feels like we (adults) are surviving and hanging on every thin rope of hope we manage to find. And adulthood does not mean we have succeeded in breaking the chains of harmful heritage and tradition. The themes of following your dreams and not letting misfortune guide or define who you are as an individual are prominent and well-implemented in Skyward through the perspective of Spensa. And now that I have read Skyward, it is no longer a surprise why many adult fantasy and sci-fi readers recommend this story of hope and determination to me and other adult SFF readers.
“People need stories, child. They bring us hope, and that hope is real. If that’s the case, what does it matter whether people in them actually lived?”
Let’s review this by discussing the four things that turned into a pleasant surprise to me upon reading Skyward. First, I think Spensa is a well-written character. Before I read Skyward, I heard some opinions stating they couldn’t stand Spensa and her aggressive or foul-mouthed personality. I have to disagree with this notion. I found Spensa’s behavior to fit the narrative and background she has. The pressure and the prejudice she encounters every day due to her father’s actions are insane, and the way she stands tall (even though she is short), fiery, and determined despite all that is admirable. I wouldn’t know how it feels to be a teenage girl, but I know I wouldn’t have fared better if I were in her shoes. Raised under the heroic stories of Beowulf, Conan the Barbarian, and more, these stories influenced and inspired Spensa to hope and be strong as an individual while retaining her inner kindness.
“And the warrior’s way was not to run from failure, but to own up to it and do better.”
Second, although she is the primary (and almost singular except the interludes) POV character, Spensa is not alone in her journey. Some of you might know the magical/battle school trope is one of my favorite tropes in speculative fiction. Pair this with found family and friendship, and it was practically assured I would at least enjoy Skyward. And enjoy it, I did. Sure, some of the flight training montage did feel repetitive, but the development and interaction between Spensa and her mentor and the flight crew of Skyward Flight—Jerkface and FM in particular—were one of my favorite aspects of the novel.
“And yet, when you fly, you are amazing. You’re so determined, so skillful, so passionate. You’re a fire, Spin. When everyone else is calm, you’re a burning bonfire. Beautiful, like a newly forged blade.”
And third, of course, I have to mention Doomslug and M-Bot. Now, Doomslug is an adorable-looking slug that has become a mascot for the Skyward series. I have owned a sticker of it for a while now! And I had certain expectations on how Doomslug will behave. And it is certainly not the ones that I end up reading here. When I read Doomslug and M-Bot constantly learning and copying Spensa’s foul-mouthed language, I cannot help but smile at this. Sanderson has pitched Skyward as How to Train Your Dragon but with a spaceship instead of a dragon, and this is such an apt pitch/comparison. I have a feeling that moving forward into the series, Doomslug and M-Bot will play a more significant role in the story, and I am all up for it.
“We must not cower in the dark because we’re afraid of the spark within us. The answer is not to put out the spark, but to learn to control it.”
Lastly, as expected of Sanderson, the writing was easy to read, and the actions were exciting and fun. I have read all of Sanderson’s Cosmere books. I knew a Sanderlanche at the end of Skyward would transpire. This being a YA novel would not change that. I expected this, and it is there. I am, however, surprised by the high quality of the Sanderlanche. Even though it was mostly predictable, the narrative succeeded at immersing me in the climax sequence. No kidding. I read the final 100 pages of Skyward in a non-stop one-hour burst because it was so engaging. Depending on each reader, it might be relatively hard to imagine or visualize some of the dogfight and flight sequences or movements, and this is where the interior illustrations of the DDF ship’s design, Krells, and Turning Methods by Ben McSweeney came in as a support. If you are reading this for the first time and find it difficult to realize some of the scenes in your mind, I strongly suggest flipping the pages to check the interior artwork.
Overall, I did have a wonderful time reading Skyward. It is not a favorite of mine as it lacked that massive emotional impact and explosive vivid scenes often found in Sanderson’s Cosmere novels. But I think Skyward is the kind of fun and adventurous YA sci-fi novel that can be read and highly enjoyed by both YA and adult readers. It is also suitable for readers who want to get into reading sci-fi for the first time. I always recommend Mistborn Trilogy as a hybrid adult fantasy series by Brandon Sanderson to both YA and adult fantasy readers, and I think a similar type of recommendation can be given to Skyward. I heard worrying things about the sequels, especially Cytonic, and I will keep my fingers crossed I will have a better reading experience of the rest of the series. I look forward to reading the sequel, Starsight, this month.
You can order this book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)
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