Alien Politics and Space Travel: Brandon Sanderson – Starsight

I really loved Skyward – the YA sci-fi adventure I wouldn’t have expected from Brandon Sanderson – so naturally I didn’t wait long to pick up the sequel. After the revelations at the end of the first book I didn’t think Sanderson could deliver another surprise of such proportions. Silly me… it’s like I haven’t learned anything at all from reading all his epic fantasies. There are always more secrets to discover and more twists I didn’t see coming. This review will be spoiler-free, however there will be HUGE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST SKYWARD BELOW!

STARSIGHT
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Gollancz, 2019
Hardcover: 468 pages
Series: Skyward #2
My rating: 8/10

First line: I slammed on my overburn and boosted my starship through the middle of a chaotic mess of destructor blasts and explosions. 

Starsight picks up about six months after the end of Skyward and Spensa and her friends have established themselves as competent pilots in the DDF. Spensa is still her daring, ambitious old self although her mission has changed. The things she found out at the end of the first book lead humanity on a whole new path to freedom from their prison on Detritus. All they want is to live in peace and prosperity, on a planet where aliens don’t constantly attack them. But in order to travel through space, humans have to find – or steal – the necessary technology. Or Spensa has to figure out her abilities and use them for the good of her people…

Starsight was surprising, not only because it has the usual Sandersonesque mind-blowing twists, but at first because the setting and plot were totally different from what I expected. Spensa doesn’t spend much time on Detritus (or in its orbit) but takes an opportunity that arises to travel to the aliens who keep humanity imprisoned and try to steal FTL technology right out from under their noses. Where the first book was about Spensa becoming a pilot, this one is her trying to be a spy… sometimes more and sometimes less successfully. She does have M-Bot with her, however, who not only guarantees great dialogue and some truly funny scenes but who also is more a friend than a sentient machine by now. I really found myself caring deeply about that AI and not just because he’s trying to figure out himself whether he could be called “alive”.
The question of what makes a living being arises on many occasions and M-Bot’s musings on the topic range from ridiculous or funny to really deep and thought-provoking.

When Spensa arrives on the titular station Starsight, she is not only confronted with the problem of how to infiltrate her enemies’ home and steal secret technology from them, but she also meets several different alien species in the shape of people who may even become friends. I was very impressed with all the new side characters introduced in this book. They are each distinct, they have their own personality and mannerisms, and their alienness – although mostly not very striking – does come through. Morriumur the dione and Hesho the kitsen especially grew dear to me, but even the characters I didn’t like were well-written. The difference between how the Superiority live and how Spensa grew up was particularly stark – and the rules for letting “lesser species” becoce part of the Superiorty were… interesting to learn.

The plot, now that I think about it, isn’t actually all that original or all that different from the first book. Spensa is once again put into a cockpit and has to train with other people to defeat an overwhelming enemy. However, the enemy has changed, as have her wingmates. And there’s also the fact that she’s pretending to be someone else in order to steal from the people she’s slowly getting to know… That’s the reason I really liked this book so much, I think. Spensa’s realization that the aliens she’s been fighting on her home planet are also just people – some good, some bad, but each with a life of their own, a family, maybe a pet – happens gradually, and then all at once. It shows not only that the world is bigger than Spensa (and we readers) originally thought but it also makes Spensa grow so much as a person. I was super proud of her!

M-Bot also put me through all the emotions in this book. There are certain things he can’t talk about or do to himself (changing certain parts his code, copying himself, etc.) but he keeps wondering if he could be called alive and what even makes someone alive. I won’t spoil anything but M-Bot is in danger on occasion – after all, he is Spensa’s ship – and I was shocked how worried I got about that space ship. Even if at the end of the series it turns out M-Bot is nothing special, just a very complex AI who’s been programmed with sarcasm, I will love him to bits until the very end!

There was one twist that I saw coming just a bit more than the others Sanderson has in store for us. Let’s just say the Superiority isn’t all that subtle with its politics or its ways to control other species. And maybe the whole “writing for a YA audience” thing just got out of hand for a moment.  Figuring out one plot point  a few moments before the protagonist did made no dent in my reading enjoyment, but I was surprised that the answer to this burning question was something I could actually come up with myself. But worry not: There are more revelations and more twists and more hints about things to come, none of which I expected. Just like after finishing Skyward, I want the next book RIGHT NOW and I don’t know if I can wait two years to find out how the story ends.

If you liked the first book, you will like this one as well. Just be warned that you don’t get to see much of the side characters from Skyward. But I believe the third book will put together all the characters from the first two books in one epic finale and, man, I cannot wait!

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

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