Skyward by Brandon Sanderson. ★★★★
I’ll read pretty much anything Brandon Sanderson writes, so it comes as no surprise that I rushed to pick up Skyward, his new young adult science fiction novel.
Spensa has always longed to be a pilot like her father… even when he flees in the middle of battle and is shot down by his own side in punishment for cowardice. But her world needs pirates. Spensa is one of the descendants of a wrecked space fleet who found a precarious refuge in the caverns of a graveyard of a planet while an unknown alien species launches constant attacks, trying to destroy what civilization humanity has managed to recreate.
Spensa and her family have to live under her father’s dishonorable reputation, even though Spensa is certain that he wasn’t a coward and that there has to be more to the story. Getting into flight school will be hard enough, but graduating will be even harder — many cadets and pilots don’t survive their first encounters with the enemy.
At the beginning of Skyward, I felt like I knew exactly where the plot would go and what some of the secrets behind the mysterious aliens would be. Look, I’ve read a lot of young adult fiction, and I know how these things go. Here’s the thing: I was completely wrong. Skyward is full of twists and turns I never predicted and that still 100% fit the story. I never should I have doubted Brandon Sanderson’s ability to wow me with plot twists.
I’ve seen a lot of other people comparing Skyward to Ender’s Game, which I suppose is inevitable for a YA science fiction book about humanity coming together to fight aliens. But I actually don’t think it’s the best comparison. Brandon Sanderson calls it a cross between Topgun and How to Train Your Dragon. While I haven’t seen Topgun, I think it probably fits. Personally, it reminded me a lot of Battlestar Galactica with the remnants of humanity desperately clinging to survival, facing scarce resources and constant attacks from a more powerful enemy, while the thematic material brings in moral complexity, questioning whether a society entirely devoted to survival is worth surviving.
As usual with Brandon Sanderson, the world building is impressive, although Skyward isn’t one of his best. The planet is surrounded by a cloud of detritus and ancient defense systems which still provide a measure of protection, limiting the battles to smaller scale dogfights. Most knowledge of the past and the outside world was lost in the crash and the immediate alien attack that killed off the entire leadership and destroyed the archives. The characters of Skyward may know only a tiny fraction of the entire story, and the questions left are intensely compelling.
I was never in love with the characters of Skyward, although I didn’t hate them either. Spensa tends to put on this huge bluster about destroying her enemies and such that almost got annoying. But it was balanced out by the themes of bravery vs. cowardness, and deconstructing the emphasis on bravery in Spensa’s highly militarized society. Spensa doesn’t have a romance plot in Skyward, but I swear I can feel one coming in a future volume.
Earlier this year, I decided to include in my review when a book has no sign that queer people exist in its world. Skyward falls into this category, which was pretty much what I was expecting and probably what everyone else would.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Skyward. I quickly found myself sucked into the book by its twisty plot, fast pacing, and the mysteries of the world. It’s definitely a story I’d recommend.