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New Release Review


Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
Book Name: Skyward
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher(s): Delacorte Press (US) Gollancz (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Science Fiction
Release Date: November 6, 2018

As a big fan of titles by Becky Chambers and Pierce Brown, this space adventure by Sanderson sounded like a no brainer. In the online announcement that Sanderson made, he noted that it would be sold under the young adult branch in the US but under science fiction in the UK; it definitely felt like YA to me, breathing down the necks of the Wayfarer and Red Rising trilogies. Skyward is set to be the first in a new series of four books with the second, Starsight, due out next year. It stands separate from the main universes known as the cosmere that Sanderson has already cemented and is set following the novella Defending Elysium.

The front cover really caught my attention; we see a lone female figure standing on the surface of a barren and desolate planet, debris floating in the air, with thick clouds obscuring her view of the stars above. A single rocket in the distance shoots off as she stands watching, aiming for the solitary hole in the cloud cover. The figure wears armour or a suit of some kind, signaling a uniformity that she perhaps shares with others. I also like the 1920s/Art Deco style framing used, but this doesn’t seem to have any connection to the content, it just looks really nice. Inside the cover is just as delightful, with patterned endpapers acting as an expansion to the cover, showing us more of the bare surface of the planet and clouds blocking the starry view from the wasteland below.

Sanderson explained on his website:

“The official pitch is this: Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.”

An only child, Spensa is growing up without her father, and has developed a stronger relationship with her Gran-Gran than her mother. She has a single friend, her family seen as outcasts for her father’s behaviour. The grandmother strives to encourage Spensa’s passion, regaling her with stories of ancient heroes from Earth, feeding her fire, while her mother is more resigned to their current status and wishes Spensa would just conform to what society expects from her. Spensa has fire that we’ve seen before; she grows up in shame for something beyond her control and told she’ll never be what she so desperately wants. This fuels her to prove the naysayers wrong. She has enough pride to get her into repeated trouble and an aggressive attitude to make herself appear stronger and more resilient than she is. We come to recognise her bravado as a wall to hide her pain and to push those away that might hurt her.

Needing to prove herself, Spensa takes the step that many of her community wish would cause her to trip, and becomes part of a flight school training to become fully-fledged pilots that work to protect their civilisation. Here, she develops new friendships that begin to help her control the fire within. We see the ugly faces of judgment and misconceptions, not just from Spensa’s fellow schoolmates, but also from Spensa herself. When we’re first introduced to those in Skyward Flight, the teens are a ragtag crew, representing different branches of human colonists on the planet Detritus. Most don’t know the others when they’re first allocated to their group, but we soon learn that each are individuals, with clearly defined personalities and traits that make them unique. Like Spensa, they all have their own missions they’ve set themselves. What unites them are the expectations cast by family and society. We follow each on their journeys just as Spensa does, developing into characters to bond with and, for some, to mourn for.

The remains of the human race crash-landed in their ship, the Defiant, on the planet Detritus. The humans, now referring to themselves as Defiants, have colonised Detritus, building the subterranean settlement of Igneous, with refineries and factories that help support life on the planet. We learn of Alta, the surface airbase which houses the DDF (Defiant Defence Force) and flight school. We get a real sense of the new planet where the story unfolds, the cavernous system below it, and the debris ring that orbits it. We learn enough information for us to understand societal structures and geographic locations, but without lengthy over-detailed explanations and descriptions. This leaves a lot of development possibilities available for the following books.

For me, the book loses points for what came across as an info-dump towards the end. Throughout the entire book we’re bursting at the seams, eager for information about how the remainder of the human race has ended up battling the Krell. When those answers are finally delivered to us, it takes place as a relay of information. I was deflated, feeling like the ending could have been lengthened to explore these revelations further, providing us with an account of the discovery of truth, and the immediate implications it was going to have. The answers that the characters and the reader have longed for are delivered in less than two pages of the book.

Skyward contains a lot of heart that teaches us to never back down in the face of adversity because you might just end up reaching your goal and claiming the stars. It’s an enjoyable, easy read with strong worldbuilding and plenty of peaks and troughs in action to hook you in and keep you immersed right through to the end pages. There’s even comic relief from M-Bot, a spaceship with AI, who delivers some truly laugh-out-loud lines. These adventure-filled pages are not to be missed!

A free copy of this book was given in exchange for a fair and honest review.


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