Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward Cover.jpg

Publishers: Gollancz

                        Audible Studios

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.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

Empire of Silence Cover.jpg

Publisher: Gollancz

Publication Date – 3 July 2018

 

First time author Christopher Ruocchio boldly introduces himself with his five-star debut, Empire of Silence, an extraordinary and spellbinding science fiction epic.

In the far future, humanity has left Earth behind and made its home in the stars by colonising thousands of the planets.  However, expansion was halted when the humans encountered the Cielein, the only other race in the galaxy with the ability to travel through space.  For years, the humans and the Cielein fought a brutal and devastating war against each other, until one man changed everything.

That man is Hadrian Marlowe, who, for the best of reasons, destroys a sun and burns every last Cielein from the stars.  This destruction also results in the deaths of four billion humans, including the Emperor of Sollan Empire.  After this infamous act, Hadrian is considered throughout the galaxy as both humanity’s greatest hero and its most terrible villain, known as The Sun-Eater, Starbreaker, Palekiller and Deathless.  But how did one man who was neither a soldier nor a hero seize such a responsibility and commit such atrocities?  The Sun Eater series is the chronicle of Hadrian’s life, of which Empire of Silence is the first part.

Born the eldest son of a noble house, Hadrian fled his family and his overbearing father to escape his future as a member of the Chantry, The Stella Empire’s state religion.  When the ship he chartered is mysteriously abandoned en route to his destination, Hadrian finds himself stranded on the wrong planet with no means of escape and none of his family’s resources available to him.  Forced to fight his way up from the gutters, Hadrian attempts to survive on this strange new world by any means necessary.  Starting out as a beggar and thief, Hadrian eventually embarks on a career as a gladiator in the hope of making enough money to buy a ship.  But when his true identity is revealed, Hadrian must find a way to survive in a foreign court, where powerful enemies lurk around every corner.

However, all of Hadrian’s problems become immaterial when the Cielein arrive above the planet, searching for something.  Drafted into a war he never wanted to be involved in, Hadrian seeks to understand the Cielein, but finds only mysteries and secrets.  Hadrian’s path to becoming The Sun-Eater is set, and his journey begins here.

Empire of Silence is the first volume in Ruocchio’s incredibly ambitious debut series, The Sun Eater.  Featuring fantastic storytelling and a galaxy-wide setting that is breathtaking in its scope and content, this is an outstanding first book and an excellent start to a series with real potential.

Many readers will be interested to know that Empire of Silence is already receiving quite a few comparisons to Patrick Rothfuss’s highly regarded fantasy epic, The Name of the Wind.  It is an easy comparison to make, as there are a large number of similarities between the two books.  Both books contain utterly compelling content designed to capture the reader’s imagination; however, the major similarity is the use of a chronicle format to tell their massive, character-driven epics.  Like The Name of the Wind, Empire of Silence is told solely from the point of view of the protagonist, Hadrian, and takes the form of a written retrospective explaining the terrible act that makes him infamous throughout the galaxy.  The series will completely explore Hadrian’s life, examining every action that leads up to this event.

The chronicle format is a superb choice for the Empire of Silence’s epic story.  Not only does it allow the author to produce a complex and extremely detailed epic storyline but it also allows him to add to the story’s gravitas by having the narrator comment on and reflect on his actions in hindsight.  This great format also allows the author to show off his protagonist in a range of different circumstances.  Because of various science fiction elements, Hadrian is destined to have an extremely long life span and a great many opportunities for adventure.  Within Empire of Silence alone, Ruocchio portrays Hadrian performing a range of different roles, including the presumed heir to a planet, a scholar, a fugitive, a beggar, a thief, a gladiator, a companion and tutor to noble children, an amateur archaeologist, a translator, a torturer, a negotiator and an irregular member of the military.  Each of the different roles that Hadrian plays influences his mindset and viewpoint, which allows the reader to see him evolve in front of their eyes.  It is also interesting to note that Ruocchio has not pre-emptively indicated how many books will be in his series, a mistake some other authors using a chronicle format have made before.  This will allow him to tell the whole story he envisioned without compromising on pacing, world-building or character development in order to reach a hasty conclusion, and will no doubt result in a much more complete and enjoyable series.

The overall plot of Empire of Silence contains various storytelling elements that are masterfully combined throughout the book.  It contains everything from science fiction elements and action sequences to long discussions of the history of the galaxy in which the series is set.  There is also a series of significantly dramatic storylines, such as Hadrian dealing with the difficulties of having a self-interested and manipulative father and an uncaring family.  There are some great coming-of-age moments within the storyline as Hadrian first seeks independence from his family and their history and then tries to find his own way on a new world where he has none of his power and influence.  The reader gets to witness several powerful scenes in which Hadrian’s life changes dramatically and he desperately attempts to claim some sense of normality or sanity in this new world.  Of particular note are some very emotional scenes during Hadrian’s first encounters with the Cielcin.  In these scenes, Hadrian is forced to contend with his own curiosity, conscience and morality while stuck between his own species, represented by the cruel and domineering Empire, and the aliens that somehow appear to bear much more humanity.  This results in some truly spectacular scenes that make this book impossible to put down.

One of the most impressive and enjoyable aspects of Empire of Silence is the vast and imaginative universe in which the story is set.  Ruocchio has an extremely interesting vision of the future that readers will find quite intriguing.  The entirety of the first book is set within the Sollan Empire, which represents the largest faction of humans in the future galaxy.  This civilisation, whilst retaining some advanced technology, such as spaceships, has reverted socially and culturally following a catastrophic event many years before.  There is a rigid class system, with the nobles wielding considerable power and disregard for the ordinary people.  A religious organisation holds sway over much of the empire, using inquisitor-like tactics to control the population and prevent what they consider heresy, which includes an aversion to advanced technology.  An interesting twist to this is the large number of cameras and drones that they and the nobles use to continually survey and intimidate the populace.  The Empire’s culture appears to be strongly inspired by the ancient Roman and Greek civilisations, and their various influences can be seen throughout the book.  This is an excellent setting for such an expansive story, and the reader gets to experience a unique and compelling combination of science fiction advancements and old school ideals.

Aside from the main setting of the Sollan Empire, Ruocchio has also stacked his universe with a range of characters, aliens, mysteries and side storylines that prove to be massively intriguing for the reader.  Several of these of mysteries and side stories are explored to an extent throughout the book; however, many are left open and will carry through to later books in the series.  The protagonist interacts with a massive of number of characters, which plays into the overall concept of him having a busy life.  In order to assist the reader in keeping track of the cast of thousands, who sometimes have limited scenes within the story, Ruocchio has provided extensive indexes.  Not only do these indexes contain details of all the characters the protagonist encounters but they also contain a huge amount of history, definitions and other useful information to help the audience absorb this massive new universe.

In one of the most impressive and elaborate science fiction novels of the year, first-time author Christopher Ruocchio has shown himself to be one of the brightest new stars in the science fiction genres.  Empire of Silence contains an absolutely amazing story that makes full use of its original and immense overarching setting, and is guaranteed to capture the reader’s imagination.  This is epic science fiction at its very best, and I cannot wait for the second book in Ruocchio’s The Sun Eater series.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski

Season of Storms Cover.jpg

Publication: Gollancz

English Edition Translated by David A. French

Publication Date – 19 April 2018

 

The legendary Andrzej Sapkowski returns with a fun and exhilarating addition to one of the best fantasy franchises to ever come out of Europe, The Witcher.

Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a powerful mutant tasked with protecting ordinary people from the monsters that infest the various kingdoms and lands of the Continent.  Witchers wield a range of weapons in the fight against evil, from magical signs to powerful potions.  However, their main weapons are two swords: one made of steel, the other made of silver.  These swords are a symbol of status for a Witcher and are irreplaceable.

However, after being falsely arrested by corrupt city guards, Geralt’s swords disappear, having been stolen by unknown thieves.  Upon his release, Geralt will move heaven and earth to reclaim his weapons.  But all manner of people desire the weapons of a Witcher, and his search only throws up false leads.

The theft could not have come at a worse time.  In order to obtain his freedom, Geralt is coerced by the sorceress known as Coral into hunting a demon around the sorcerer stronghold of Rissberg.  Geralt must determine who among the fortress’s scheming sorcerers is summoning the demon forth, and stop their rampage.  At the same time, he and his old friend Dandelion must contend with the various plots taking place within the court of the King of Kerack as his heirs battle for power.

Can Geralt contend with the foes set against him, or will the loss of his faithful swords result in his destruction?

Sapkowski is one of the most popular and well-known writers of fantasy fiction in Central and Eastern Europe, where his books have achieved a cult following.  Sapkowski is best known for The Witcher series of books.  This series, which was mostly written in the 1990s, focuses on the monster hunter Geralt of Rivia and his adventures throughout Sapkowski’s dark fantasy landscape.  These books served as the basis for the popular video game series of the same name, which is how many people would be familiar with Sapkowski’s characters and stories.  The Witcher books were also adapted into both a movie and television series in Poland, called The Hexer, and Netflix has recently commissioned a new American television series based on the books, also called The Witcher, which is currently in the early stages of production.

Season of Storms is the latest The Witcher book Sapkowski has released.  It was originally published in 2013 in Polish, but an English translation of the book has only just been published.  This is a standalone book that is set between some of Sapkowski’s original short stories which were captured in his second book, The Last Wish.  While Season of Storms is a standalone book, it does contain a number of hints to some The Witcher stories chronologically set after it.  It also features a number of characters from the other books in the series, including a series of interludes that focus on Nimue, who appeared in two previous books and who many may recognise as the Lady of the Lake of Arthurian legends.  The scenes featuring Nimue in Season of Storms are set more than a hundred years after the rest of The Witcher books and contain some potential hints about the eventual fate of the series’ main characters, as well as some cryptic discussions between characters that could be open to some interesting interpretations.  As a result, people who have read the other books in the franchise will really appreciate Season of Storms for these call-backs and references.  However, while the book may be especially appealing to past readers, it is also a perfect place for readers unfamiliar with Sapkowski’s work to get started, as it does not rely on other books in the series for plot details.

Sapkowski continues to explore his fantastic fantasy world in this latest book, as Geralt quests into new areas of the Continent.  Most of the story focuses on locations and settings not previously explored in previous books of the series, giving fans of this franchise a much wider view of this detailed fantasy world.  Knowledge of the world is also expanded through the fun use of excerpts from in-universe fictional books, which offers a range of entertaining facts and jokes.  Readers will also be impressed by the wide number of foes and monsters that Sapkowski has fit in this book.  Throughout the story Geralt has to contend with magical mutations, humanoid hybrids, powerful magic users, werewolves, kitsunes, gangsters and marauding soldiers.  This rich array of opponents adds a lot to the story’s excitement and is wildly appropriate for a story about a monster hunter.

Another notable part of Season of Storms is the range of intriguing mysteries Geralt needs to solve in order to complete his quest and survive.  These mysteries are interspersed throughout the story’s fantasy adventure and include the main mystery of who stole Geralt’s swords, the political mysteries in the Kingdom of Kerack and the investigation into why summoned demons are attacking communities in the forest.  These mysteries have a large level of sophistication and do a great job of keeping the readers interested and intrigued throughout the book.  The various mysteries also combine really well with the book’s fantasy elements and strike a good balance within the book.  This exceptional combination of elements within Season of Storms impressively captivates the readers and creates an enticing overall story.

The latest book in The Witcher franchise is a brilliant new adventure that stands just to the side of the previous short stories and established longer series.  Season of Storms provides pulse pounding adventure in Sapkowski’s beloved fantasy world while also telling a series of intense interlocked stories that make great use of several riveting mysteries to drag in the reader’s attention.  This is definitely a strong recommendation for those readers who have enjoyed Sapkowski’s literary works in the past.  However, general fantasy fans and those who have only experienced The Witcher franchise through the games will enjoy this excellent and electrifying read.

My Rating:

Four stars