I actually read this book right after it came out in December 2018 but last week I saw I had never reviewed it. As I have turned into quite a Sanderson fangirl, this situation could not remain! The man is known for writing excellent epic fantasy with brilliant twists, so this foray into both science fiction and YA was mostly new. I had read Steelheart – the first in Sanderson’s other YA series – and liked it okay but not enough to continue the series. So to sum it all up: I was very curious to see what Skyward held in store and I was not disappointed.
by Brandon Sanderson
Published by: Gollancz, 2018
Hardback: 513 pages
Series: Skyward #1
My rating: 8/10
First line: Only fools climbed to the surface.
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.
Young Spensa dreams of nothing more than to become a figher pilot like her father and defend her planet against the attacking alien Krell. Even though her father – and his death – brought shame on the entire family. Because the ace pilot did something so horrible that it cannot be forgiven – he was branded a coward – Spensa’s family has been shunned and Spensa’s chances of even getting into flight school are pretty much nonexistant. Jobs are assigned according to young people’s strengths but pilots tend to come from families who already have established pilots. Needless to say, cowards’ daughters don’t count…
There’s so much to love about this book, starting with the writing style. Sanderson is always immensely readable but when he does YA, he becomes even more so. The pages just fly, you forget the time only to realize it’s three in the morning and you’ve finished most of the book without noticing. It’s truly engaging and Spensa being a highly likable narrator only adds to that. Spensa is dedicated from the get go and she never stops following her dreams, even though many, many rocks are put in her way. I don’t think it’s a spoiler if I tell you that she does get into flight school (although not easily) because the meat of the novel is how Spensa fares there.
I loved that although she is a gifted young woman, things don’t just fall into her lap. She may be a natural in the cockpit but that doesn’t mean she is immediately able to fly. In fact, Spensa struggles as much as her classmates, if not more, to just get a handle on her ship. The first lessons were filled with hilarious scenes of Spensa and her classmates failing to control their ships. And that’s without having to deal with all the rivalry, people looking down on her for having a coward father, or generally thinking she and her entire family are worthless. Learning to fly takes as much from Spensa as trying to make friends and prove herself worthy of being a pilot. Of course, she also doesn’t believe her father really was a coward and wants to find out what really happened. I can promise you there will be a secret or two waiting in store but probably not what you think.
This being a Sanderson book, you can also expect fantastic worldbuilding. The story is set on the planet Detritus where most people live underground because the surface is frequently attacked by the Krell. That’s why fighter pilots are so important as they are the only defense humans have against this alien threat. I loved how the world was set up, how the differences between the rich and the poor are made clear (it’s not pretty, let me tell you that) and how these people’s entire lives are based around the fact that you can’t see the sky. Questions of class differences are raised on many occasions and since we follow the underdog Spensa, it’s easy to side with those less fortunate. However, even the spoiled rich kids aren’t one-dimensional. Sure, they may have had an easier life than Spensa but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from their own problems and challenges – they are simply different ones.
Another prominent theme is the question of what makes a hero. Spensa has heard many tales from heroes of Earth but she herself is still trying to figure out who she is, how she can be a hero, and why her dad seemingly wasn’t the hero she had always thought. The question isn’t discussed in detail (maybe because Sanderson thought it would be too much for a YA audience?) but I liked that it’s a constant that keeps coming up and makes you think about heroism yourself.
Now I’ve already said a whole lot and I haven’t even mentioned the sentient spaceship M-Bot, or Spensa’s snail friend Doomslug. It does take a while until Spensa finds that spaceship but trust me when I tell you it’s one of the highlights of this novel. Spensa finding an abandoned spaceship is one thing (and a pretty cool one at that) but said space ship literally having a mind of its own makes for some hilarious dialogue and wonderful dynamics between these characters.
The side characters were also interesting although they didn’t stick in my mind as much as Spensa or M-Bot did. And that’s maybe the one reason why I’m not rating this book higher. Don’t get me wrong, I had so much fun reading this but unlike other books by this author, the details didn’t really stay with me all that long. I had to look up character names so I could write this review (which isn’t a bad thing, especially when you read a lot of books, but I never for a second forgot any of the character names from Sanderson’s other books). The same goes for certain plot elements. I remember loving every page and enjoying myself thoroughly while reading it, but by now the details are a little hazy. However, that’s about the only negative thing I can say about this.
This wouldn’t be a Sanderson novel if it didn’t have a whole lot of unexpected twists in store. And it’s the same pattern as always – I think I see something coming or at least I think I have a vague idea what the twist will be about, and then it turns out I’m completely wrong and Sanderson comes up with something I totally did not expect and which knocks me off my socks. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter because you should all have as much fun as I did discovering what’s really going on and having your expectations turned upside down. It made me incredibly excited about the second novel Starsight (which I’m currently reading*) and I can’t wait to see what revelations are waiting for me this time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading Brandon Sanderson, it’s that I can trust him completely to take me on a wild ride and always deliver a fantastic ending.
*Sanderson does a brilliant job of reminding his readers what happened in Skyward in the first few chapters of the second book. So if you also read this a while ago and are worried that you don’t remember enough details or characters, don’t worry. Just dive into the sequel, it will all come back. 😉
MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very, very good!
P.S.: This is one of the cases where I have a massive cover preference for the UK editions. I really don’t like the US covers for this series. I think the illustrations are beautiful, but they just don’t fit the novel very well, in my opinion.