Publication Date – 6 November 2018
Legendary fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Sanderson once again delivers an incredible five-star read with Skyward, a brilliant young adult science fiction story that follows the journey of an energetic young protagonist at she attempts to claim the stars.
As of right now, I have only had the opportunity to read one of Sanderson’s novels, the epic fantasy book, The Way of Kings, which was easily one of the best fantasy reads of the last decade and which I gave a five-star review here. After enjoying The Way of Kings I was keen to see how Sanderson’s writing ability translated to the young adult science fiction genre. I have to say I was in no way disappointed, as Sanderson once again creates an amazing and exciting piece of literature, all set within an incredibly detailed new fictional landscape. Skyward is the first book in Sanderson’s planned Skyward series, which is to be made up of a total of four books. The second book in this series, Starsight, has apparently already been written, with a release planned for November 2019, while the third and fourth books, both yet untitled, already have tentative release dates in 2021 and 2022. Starsight is already on my must-read list for next year, and will appear in my Waiting-on-Wednesday series of blog posts the moment the cover gets released.
Far in the future and on another planet, humanity has been under constant attack for hundreds of years. A mysterious alien race known as the Krell pursued the human fleet across the stars, forcing it to crash on a desolate planet. Those humans that survived were forced to flee below the planet’s surface, hiding in caves and only re-emerging when they gained the ability to create space fighters capable of fighting off the alien craft. Now the Defiance Defence League (DFF) fights a constant war against the Krell, who are determined to wipe out the DFF’s main base and the production facilities beneath it.
Since she was a young girl, Spensa Nightshade has always dreamed of becoming a DDF pilot, the elite defenders of humanity, in order to claim the stars. However, years ago, her father deserted during the most famous battle in DDF history and was shot down by his comrades. Having been forced to live for years as a daughter of a coward, Spensa is eager to forge her own heroic destiny, but the DDF will never accept her into their flight program.
But with the war going badly and new pilots needed, Spensa is given a chance to join the DDF, thanks to the actions of her father’s old wingmate. Joining a class of misfit cadets who dub themselves Skyward Flight, Spensa learns to fly the DDF’s ships against the Krell and quickly shows her determination and skill. However, her father’s legacy is constantly weighing her down, whether by the sabotage of the DDF or the constant fear that deep down she might also be a coward. With the Krell attacks getting worse, will Spensa find her place as a pilot, or will a terrible secret from the past come back to haunt her? And through it all, what role will the ancient spaceship Spensa discovers have on the fate of humanity?
I not only received a physical copy of Skyward from Hachette Australia, but I also listened to a copy of this book in its audiobook format, which is narrated by Sophie Aldred and goes for just a little over 15 hours. Both versions are pretty cool. The trade paperback version of this novel contains a couple of great maps at the start of the novel that some readers may find useful when it comes to navigating around the story. There is also a series of intriguing drawings throughout the book that show off several of the ships, both human and alien, that are featured in the story, all of which are juxtaposed against the main ships that the protagonist and her wingmates train and fight in. The later parts of the book also contain some fantastic illustrations of flight manoeuvres and abilities, which prove informative when utilised with Skyward’s many aerial flight sequences. I personally preferred the audiobook format of Skyward to the physical copy, as it allowed me to enjoy the many action-packed aerial scenes a whole lot more. I also loved the narration by Aldred, who was able to create a number of excellent voices for the book’s various characters.
The reason I am giving Skyward such a high-star review is because it is an incredible piece of young adult science fiction that not only has an amazing story but which also contains several outstanding characters and some of the best ship-to-ship action sequences I have ever seen, all of which is combined with Sanderson’s trademark knack for large-scale world building.
I had a lot of fun with the story contained within this book, as Sanderson sets forth a layered and powerful narrative for the reader to enjoy. Told primarily from the point of view of the protagonist, Spensa, Skyward contains a fantastic coming-of-age storyline set within a flight academy where the cadets learn how to fly in defence of their planet. I always love a good school based learning narrative, and Sanderson has created an outstanding version of this, where the main characters spend most of the story learning the theory behind flying, while also engaging in real-life combat situations as they train. As a result, there are heartbreaking losses, great emotional connections forged, and secrets and hints about the overall story slowly released to the reader, all while the protagonist is forced to contend with the machinations of a biased authoritarian figure who even gets to narrate a few chapters to highlight the reasons for her actions. Overall this is an addictive and exciting story that will really stick in the reader’s imagination.
Sanderson has once again created a detailed and captivating new world in which to set his new series. The book is set within a new planet that humans from Earth crashed upon years ago in the past, fleeing from a mysterious alien force. For years the humans lived a nomadic lifestyle in the caves beneath the planet before finally fighting back using newly fabricated fighter craft. Sanderson has created a fantastic world to host this story, exploring a society forced to live in caves and eventually creating a military base on the surface. I love how the author has created a ton of new societal rules and features, as well as a world above and beneath the surface of this alien planet. There is also some really cool and unique technology that comes into play throughout the book, especially in the many aerial combat sequences. The aliens are mostly a mystery for the entirety of the novel, although I did really enjoy the reveals about them. I imagine Skyward’s fictional universe will be expanding out in the future instalments of this series and I am very excited to see where this goes.
Some of the best things about this book are the excellent characters that the author has populated his story with. Of particular note is the main protagonist and point-of-view character, Spensa, who is a really fun and complex character to see this story through. Spensa is a great character whose life has always been defined by her father’s legacy. As a result, she puts on an extremely brave and aggressive front to everyone she meets as she tries to convince people she is not a coward. Because of this, Spensa is quite an eccentric character, spouting out long expositions about how she will harm her opponents, which is quite amusing at times. However, as the reader gets further into the book, they find out how vulnerable she truly is, as deep down her father’s actions and legacy have had quite an impact on her. As she progresses into flight training and becomes more and more like her father, she must content with the trials of war, emotional issues with her friends and loved ones, the DDF’s indoctrination against cowards and the secrets that have been kept from her. The internal conflict and fear that follows is really well written by Sanderson and forms a captivating emotional centre for this amazing narrative.
Quite a lot of time is spent looking at the other cadets that make up Skyward Flight. Each member of this flight has a unique personality and is given a callsign to make them more distinctive. There is a fun camaraderie between these characters, and they form quite a close-knit team. Sanderson spends significant time building up several of these characters, and Spensa, much like the reader, gets quite attached to them. As a result, when tragedy hits the team, there are some significant emotional blows that come with it. I liked how the different friendships and relationships help Spensa grow as a character, as she started out the book a bit of a loner. These side characters are absolutely fantastic, and add another great emotional feature to Skyward’s story.
While Spensa and Skyward Flight are all great characters, my favourite character in all of Skyward had to be the sentient spaceship, M-Bot. M-Bot is an advanced spaceship who, for various reasons, is obsessed with mushrooms, spends much of the book cracking bad jokes and forms a close relationship with Spensa, the human who discovers it. M-Bot has to be one of the funniest and quirkiest characters in the whole book, providing several of the book’s best jokes and funniest lines. The ship’s relationship with Spensa is really well written, as it attempts to balance its existing command code with its new friendship. This results in some amazing scenes, and I never thought before this book that I would get emotional about a spaceship. M-Bot is particularly great in the audiobook version, as Aldred gives the ship an excellent Irish accent that really fits the character’s personality perfectly and makes M-Bot stand out throughout the book.
Easily my favourite thing about Skyward has to be the insane and incredibly well-written aerial combat sequences that fill this book. All of the battles take place within the planet’s atmosphere among falling debris fields, resulting in some elaborate and exciting dog-fights between the DDF fighters and the Krell. Quite a number of battles feature throughout Skyward, as the protagonist and her companions attempt to stop the Krell destroying humanity’s only hope of leaving the planet. The author spends significant time exploring the physiology of these aerial fights, including the various tactics, training and technology utilised by the DDF and the Krell. In particular, Sanderson has created some unique technology to help create some truly amazing combat sequences, including light-lances, which are energy beams that the DDF fighters use to not only throw Krell fighters around but to also help their ships do precise and elaborate manoeuvre around the falling debris. I also loved how Spensa and her flight got better as the book progressed, reflecting their training and their ability to work together as a team. All of these battle scenes are fast paced and incredibly well written, and the reader constantly finds themselves placed into the middle of these epic battle sequences. I found that the audiobook version of Skyward was particularly effective at bringing me into these combat scenes, and I was often on the edge of my seat as I listened to them. There are a number of these amazing sequences throughout the book, whether they were real battles or simulations. Highlights for me have to be a high-speed chase through a giant, ancient factory crashing down to the ground, or the final high-stakes battle that serves as an epic conclusion to the whole story. These battles are truly an amazing feature of Skyward, and I cannot wait to see what incredible aerial battles feature in the future books of this series.
Skyward is one of my favourite books of 2018 and is definitely one of the best young adult books I have read this year. Brandon Sanderson once again cements his legacy as one of modern fiction’s best fantasy and science fiction authors, as readers are treated to an epic science fiction read set in a rich and detailed new world. Featuring some amazing characters and outstanding depictions of aerial combat between humans and aliens, this book comes highly recommended. I have made no secret about how much I am looking forward to future entries in this series and cannot wait to see where Sanderson takes this story next.