Book Review: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
Given my usual reluctance to put a book or series down once started and my typical incompatibility with the Young Adult genre — I gave myself explicit permission to put this one down when, inevitably I thought, I didn’t get on with it.
Asked to define the Young Adult genre, I would have said something along the lines of:
- Protagonist under the age of 18
- Deals in themes relating to the coming of age
- Poorly written
The first two I could happily tolerate.
The third meant I never wanted to come anywhere near the genre. I suppose if I was to put a less facetious and slightly more generous spin on it, I might say they were simply… not written for me. Which is fine. Books, like games, needn’t all appeal to all people. The point is: Young Adult is something I’d written off being able to enjoy.
And… Well; consider that confidence somewhat shaken now.
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Series: Skyward #1
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Published: November 6th 2018
Source: Personal Copy
Read: October 27 – November 13, 2021 (on Kindle)
Rating: 4 of 5 stars (I really liked it)
Only fools climbed to the surface.
Spensa’s world has been under attack for hundreds of years. An alien race called the Krell leads onslaught after onslaught from the sky in a never-ending campaign to destroy humankind. Humanity’s only defence is to take to their ships and fight the enemy in the skies. Pilots have become the heroes of what’s left of the human race.
Spensa has always dreamed of being one of them; of soaring above Earth and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with her father’s – a pilot who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, placing Spensa’s chances of attending flight school somewhere between slim and none.
No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, but she is still determined to fly. And the Krell just made that a possibility. They’ve doubled their fleet, making Spensa’s world twice as dangerous . . . but their desperation to survive might just take her skyward . . .
“I don’t know who you’re fighting,” M-Bot said. “But those warning beeps indicate that you’re not doing a good job.”
Coming off the high of finishing Skyward, I immediately rated it 5 out of 5 stars. It was only coming down off that high and giving it proper consideration in the context of other books I’ve rated so highly in the past that I bumped it back to a 4 (I really liked it).
Skyward follows Spensa (aka ‘Spin’) and her struggles to overcome the legacy of her father. A once-respected pilot who, as the story goes, turned coward and fled in a pivotal battle for Humankind’s survival. In this world, self-sacrifice is not only the greatest of virtues — it is expected. And so the sins of her father have been an ever-present fact of life — the hostile world at large shaping her into quite an aggressive teen, with little concept of what being on the ‘inside’ of a friend group even entails, let alone feels like.
A lot of her character development arc focuses on her learning how to operate as part of a team, alongside dealing with the constant fear that people were right in treating her as they do — that maybe she will be a coward like her father and so it might be better for everyone if she just… listened, and stayed down.
Let me tell you though — I am an absolute sucker for well-written accounts of people being taught or trained. A lot of complaint surrounding Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear was how much time is spent at the university with ‘nothing happening’. But those were my favourite bits! Any time spent outside of the university was time I spent wishing for Kvothe to go back.
I mention this because a large portion of Skyward is spent in the classroom environment.
If you don’t share my fondness for the training sequence, Sanderson does rather smartly break it up frequently with moments of combat action and character experiences outside of the class. None of them spanned such a long period that I ended up pining for a return. Plus they frequently offered a chance to see how well the training was going. So, you know- I was on board.
Skyward is the first as a series and so it is performing the role of origin story for Spensa and introduction to the world at large. Despite this, Sanderson manages to weave in a compelling and complete-feeling story. All the while wrapping enough mystery in there to drive a burning desire to jump immediately into the second book. Which I will.
Honestly, I’m surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed this one. I don’t know what this might mean for willingness to read YA fiction going forward. Possibly nothing. Sanderson was already a known quantity to me after all. But perhaps I might be up for the odd recommendation here or there and consider it with a little more openness than I may have previously.