Skyward

Skyward was written by Brandon Sanderson and first published in 2018. It is a science-fiction novel set on a remote planet, where humans are forced to hide underground due to frequent alien attacks. The novel is the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

Ever since their ship crash landed on Detritus, Spensa’s people have been besieged by the Krell. The mysterious aliens frequently attack settlements, preventing them from growing too large or scavenging the materials that fall from the debris field that surrounds the planet. All it would take would be for the Krell to drop one lifebuster bomb in the right place and the human race could be wiped out forever.

The only thing protecting humans from the Krell are the pilots – brave men and women who risk their lives to engage the Krell in fierce aerial battles. It has always been Spensa’s dream to be one of them, but her father’s actions during the Battle of Alta have barred her from this forever. No one wants to give the time of day to the daughter of a coward, let alone allow her to pilot a fighter.

However, when Spensa manages to impress one of the tutors, she is given a chance to prove herself. Her time in training will not be easy due to her family’s reputation, but she is determined to prove Admiral Ironsides wrong by becoming the best pilot of all time. However, it’s not long before Spensa starts to learn the truth about her father. She has always been certain that he was no coward, but the truth about him could be more horrifying. Worse still, it could also affect her ability to fly…

Skyward is a really difficult novel for me to review. I have never read anything by Brandon Sanderson before, but based on his popularity I had very high hopes for this novel. And, to be fair, I did enjoy it a lot. Technically speaking, it is fantastically well written. Skyward reads a lot more like a fantasy novel than science fiction, light on technical explanations and presenting the world of Detritus in a clear and easily accessible way. Sanderson was very quick to set the scene, drawing the reader into a world of falling space debris, aerial dogfights and a militaristic warrior culture where ships are deemed more valuable than pilots.

Yet, while this world-building was enticing, its weaknesses did constantly annoy me. Despite the fact that the outside world is described to the reader, we see very little of what lies beyond Alta Base. After the early chapters, Spensa rarely returns to her impoverished family and we never truly get to see the other side of society, which seems to be a slightly-outdated cast system full of galas and political allegiances.

Skyward could also really drag in places. While the battles against the Krell were exciting, the sections in which Spensa attended class were long and very repetitive. It wasn’t long before the novel began to take on a regular pattern. Spensa would be taught a new technique over the course of a few consecutive lessons and, while doing so, got to know one or two of her classmates better. She would also spend her downtime in the caverns, having conversations with M-Bot (the mysterious AI of a wrecked spaceship that Spensa spends most of the novel trying to repair). When this was done, the Krell would suddenly attack and Spensa would enter a battle during which one or more of her classmates would either die or choose to drop out of class. Lather, rinse and repeat.

While the militaristic aspects of the story did seem to fit well, I did not think that the more supernatural elements of Spensa’s world were as well integrated or explained. While I did have an inkling of why Ironsides was so concerned about Spensa flying, the final reveal of the “defect” was a little confusing. We never really get a clear idea of where this has come from, or what it truly means to be able to “hear the stars”. I hope that this is something that future novels explain better, as it did feel a bit like an automatic win button.

Yet, despite my grievances, I never got bored. The underlying mysteries of the story were more than enough to keep my attention throughout. What happened to Spensa’s father during the Battle of Alta? Where did M-Bot come from? What is Doomslug? What is the defect? Who are the Krell? Although not all of these questions were answered in this book, the story did build to an exciting final battle and a rather satisfying twist. While there are still many loose threads that need to be tied up, I was left curious enough to want to read on and find out what will happen next.

Yet, in terms of character, I did have a few problems. The treatment of Spensa was incredibly tedious. Although the novel eventually did try to give reasons why Ironsides hated her so much, it was annoying to see the way that virtually everyone judged her due to her father’s “cowardice”. However, she also didn’t really help herself. While it was possible to sympathise with Spensa, her flowery aggressive prose got tiresome very quickly. While this improved as the novel progressed, I found her to be really annoying until about the half-way mark.

The rest of Skyward Flight were, fortunately, a lot more engaging. Although Spensa was quick to make snap judgements about their inferiority, her view on them all changes as the novel slowly reveals their secret motivations and insecurities. While some characters seemed a little stereotypical to begin with, I was pleasantly surprised that all of Spensa’s classmates were actually complex and incredibly well-rounded. Jorgen, in particular, grew a lot more sympathetic when Spensa learned why he was such a “Jerkface”.

For me, the weakest elements of the story were M-Bot and Ironsides. Until the climax of the story, M-Bot added very little to the tale beyond some long-winded pseudo-philosophical advice. While his inexplicable mushroom obsession could be amusing, I was disappointed that we did not learn enough about his origins and former pilot. It really just felt that too much time was spent on this subplot for little payoff. I hope that this will be focused on more in the next book.

Ironsides, however, was a far bigger problem. I just don’t understand how she has come to be the admiral. Her strategy off sending untrained cadets into battle on their first day, before they knew how to fire their weapons, seemed like a recipe for disaster. Just how do any cadets make it to graduation and why does no one except for Cobb seem to question her logic?

Anyhow, I think I’ve probably said enough. All in all, I was left a bit on the fence about Skyward. While there were certainly things that I enjoyed, the plot just seemed to be a little too generic to be memorable and there were some annoying problems with the world-building and characterisation. Still, I was left curious enough to read on and find out what adventures Spensa and M-Bot will have next.

Skyward can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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