If you didn’t know it before, I’m going to say it loud and proud for everyone to hear: I love Brandon Sanderson.
(I mean, just as an author, though. I don’t know him personally. 😉 )
Basically, when I pick up a Brandon Sanderson book I know I’m going to enjoy the characters, the story, the magic system… he’s the whole package.
Therefore, I put myself on the waiting list for the ebook and eagerly anticipated getting to read Skyward, the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward trilogy. We’ll get to a few issues in a minute here, but spoiler alert (though you probably already guessed): I really liked this book!
The premise is that a colony of humans from Earth crash-landed on the planet Detritus (so named because it’s surrounded by a huge, orbiting debris field) almost 100 years ago. Their ship, the Defiant, was being chased by aliens called the Krell, and they had to find somewhere to land or they’d be killed. Shortly after landing, the aliens bombed the area where all the ships’ captains and leaders were, and destroyed everyone who knew what the heck was going on, as well as all of their data on how to build ships or get off the planet. So they’re stuck.
By the time we begin the story, the Defiant colony have clawed their way back to some kind of organization, they have a group of fighter pilots who fend off Krell attacks, and they’ve organized into a fairly well-functioning society who mostly live in underground caves. You can grow up to be an algae vat technician, a farmer (they’ve built one little surface settlement at this point and they’re trying to grow other plants than just algae), a maintenance tech, an engineer, and many other possible jobs that keep their society running. Everyone is important.
Enter Spensa Nightshade (callsign: Spin), who is desperate to become a fighter pilot. No matter how many times the teacher steers her towards algae vat technology, Spensa won’t take no for an answer. But there’s a big reason why flight command doesn’t want her. I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, but since this information comes out in chapter 2 I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler: her father (callsign: Chaser) supposedly “turned coward” and ran from the Battle of Alta 8 years ago, causing his own team to have to shoot him down, and the flight commander (callsign: Ironsides) is unwilling to put her in pilot school because they’re convinced she’ll do the same. She’s convinced they’re lying, and that her father wasn’t a coward, and she wants to claim back her father’s legacy.
Will she find out the truth about her father? Will she get to be a pilot? Will the humans ever get off of Detritus, and if they do where will they go?
Things I especially liked:
- The story was about Spensa. There was some mild flirting, and a little hint that there could be romance in future books, but this story was about her and NOT about her relationship with someone else.
- Each character was (mostly) fleshed out well enough that you could understand their motivations, and they were distinct. And because you were seeing through Spensa’s eyes, as she came to revelations about other characters (i.e. that they aren’t as two-dimensional as she had initially thought), you got to discover the nuances along with her.
- Spensa grows as a character and confronts questions about what it means to be a coward, and whether being one is really that bad of a thing, as well as finding out just how much she doesn’t know. It’s an interesting journey, and it made me like the character even more by the end.
- The ending was satisfying and a person could stop here if she were so inclined, but there are enough mysteries left open-ended (where did M-Bot come from?) that I am definitely interested in reading the second book.
Things that needed a bit of a tweak:
- He sets you up right at the beginning for the fact that some of the trainees in the initial group of ten will either die or wash out (apparently only one or two per group usually make it to become full pilots). Not sure if he realized he was doing this, but there was definitely a writing pattern where the reader could figure out who was going to be gone next. I’m not going to tell you what it is (you can figure it out for yourself once you read the book), but once I noticed it, it was hard to un-see.
- The small bit of romance I mentioned above was actually a bit awkward. It’s fine, Spensa’s a bit awkward due to her life circumstances, but if he couldn’t have fixed it I think he could have left it out entirely and the book would still have been great.
- There were a few open ends that I don’t think he left mysterious on purpose, he maybe just forgot about them? Like, what happened to Spensa’s father’s flight pin and why didn’t she fight to get it back if it was that important to her? And how come she never mentioned Rodge (callsign: Rigmarole) to FM again after the first time — did she just forget him? Etc.
- There’s one thing that is sort-of magic (like, unexplainable by science, at least so far in the story) that felt a bit shoehorned in at the end, but I’m hoping the mechanism gets fleshed out in the second and third books so that it makes more sens.
The positives FAR outweighed these small nit-picks, though. If you like sci-fi in any way I highly recommend that you read it. (It is a YA book, and I wouldn’t class it as “hard” sci-fi, so while there are a few drawings of ship schematics and some discussion of g-forces, it’s not at all hard to follow even if you don’t love science.)
If you have already read it, I’d love to discuss it with you! If not, let us know whether you think you’ll read it based on this review, or hop in the comments to recommend other YA sci-fi that you think I might like!
Photo of fighter jets by Jacob Valerio on StockSnap