Waiting on Wednesday – Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday article I check out one of the most anticipated releases of 2021, the third awesome novel in Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward series, Cytonic.

Cytonic Cover

Brandon Sanderson is an outstanding author who is one of the best, if not the absolute best, fantasy and science fiction authors in the world today.  Ever since his debut in 2005, Sanderson has been a leading figure in both genres, creating an immense number of compelling, detailed and highly regarded reads.  With amazing novels like the Mistborn series, The Stormlight Archive and The Reckoners series, as well as finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, Sanderson has already left his mark on the literary world and is showing no signs of slowing down.  I must admit that I have not read as many of Sanderson’s books as I perhaps should have, with my first foray into his work only occurring a few years ago when I read The Way of Kings.  While I absolutely loved The Way of Kings, I haven’t found the time to read any of the other books in The Stormlight Archive.  I have, however, made some effort in reading one of his other excellent bodies of work, the Skyward series.

The Skyward series are incredible young adult science fiction novels that follow a bold young pilot, Spensa, as she attempts to save her people from alien fighter ships.  Set on a desolate world where the remnants of humanity have managed to survive and slowly fight back against their alien oppressors, this series has been a highlight of my reading experience over the last couple of years.  So far two novels have been released, the epic Skyward and the equally impressive Starsight, both of which were amongst the best books of 2018 and 2019 respectfully.  Sanderson cruelly left Starsight on a great cliffhanger in 2019 and I have been eagerly waiting to read the third entry in the series for some time.  It looks like my wait is nearly over as details about the third novel, Cytonic, have recently been released.

Cytonic, which is currently set for release in November 2021, will continue Spensa’s adventure as she ventures into a bold new frontier.  There are some great details about this novel’s plot out, as well as two excellent covers, and it sounds like this third novel is going to be pretty intense.

Synopsis:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Reckoners series, the Mistborn trilogy, and the Stormlight Archive comes the third book in an epic series about a girl who will travel beyond the stars to save the world she loves from destruction.

Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home.

Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy.

The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return.

To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.

Wow, based on the above synopsis, it sounds like Cytonic is going to be an amazing and compelling read that will set its protagonist on a whole different type of adventure.  There are some interesting story threads coming together for this novel, and it will be quite fascinating to see what sort of adventure Sanderson has come up with, especially considering his protagonist is stuck in a dark new landscape.  I am extremely curious to see where the story goes from here, and I am especially keen to see what happens to the various characters I grew close to in the original novels.  Starsight left the fate of some great characters in doubt, and I hope that the best ones manage to come back in this latest book.  Based on the compelling storyline set up in the previous novels, I think that Cytonic’s narrative will go in some intriguing directions, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

One of the things that I have really enjoyed about the previous Skyward entries were the unique and memorable alien worlds Sanderson introduced and utilised.  Both Detritus and the Superiority home world were extremely impressive, with their distinctive culture and people proving to be excellent settings to their novel’s narratives.  However, I have to say that I am extremely intrigued by Cytonic’s upcoming setting, the Nowhere, which sounds like a bit of a blank void.  It will be particularly interesting to see what sort of story or people Spensa finds within there, and I am envisioning a culture of weird dimension hopping beings, which has some potential.  I cannot wait to see what trials, dangers and strangeness occur in Cytonic, and I look forward to seeing Sanderson’s creative mind in action again.

Overall, I am quite excited for Cytonic to come out and I think that it has an enormous amount of potential.  Based on Sanderson’s insanely good writing ability and the incredible contents of the first two Skyward novels, I am utterly confident that Cytonic is going to be one of the best reads of the 2021 and I fully expect that I will end up awarding it a full five-star rating.  This is going to be such an awesome novel, and I am very, very keen to get my hands on it.

Cytonic Cover 2

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Starsight Cover 2.jpg

Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 26 November 2019)

Series: Skyward – Book 2

Length: 461 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

From one of the best authors of fantasy and science fiction in the world today, Brandon Sanderson, comes Starsight, an outstanding and addictive young adult science fiction read which continues the wildly entertaining adventures of a young starfighter years in the future.

Starsight is the second book in the Skyward series and follows on from the 2018 release of the same name. Skyward was a fantastic young adult science fiction book that told a compelling tale of bravery, determination and camaraderie in humanity’s distant future. Skyward was an amazing read, and it was easily one of my favourite books of 2018. As a result, I have been looking forward to Starsight for a while now, and it was one of my most anticipated releases for the second part of this year.

The Skyward series is set on the planet of Detritus, a desolate world that houses a population of humans in the caverns beneath the surface. The humans on Detritus are the remnants of a once great intergalactic human civilisation that has been destroyed in a war with a superior alien civilisation. Forced into hiding within the planet for hundreds of years, humanity eventually returned to the surface utilising scavenged starfighters to escape and build a military outpost to fight back against the alien ships who continue to harass the planet.

In Skyward, the reader is introduced to Spensa Nightshade, a young woman determined to become a pilot in the Defiant Defence Force (DDF), the military organisation that fights the alien invaders. While talented, Spensa faced opposition to being accepted into the military due to an apparent act of cowardice by her father years before. Despite the odds, Spensa was accepted in the DDF and was trained to become a skilled pilot, fighting in a number of actions against the enemy, while also trying to find out what actually happened to her father. Along the way, Spensa discovered an ancient but advanced human ship that had crash-landed on Detritus. Upon repairing the ship, Spensa discovered it had an AI installed in its computers, which she called M-Bot. After stopping an extremely destructive alien attack with the help of M-Bot, Spensa was compelled to fly through Detritus’s atmosphere, where she made several startling discoveries, the first of which was that Spensa and her family are powerful cytonics, beings with mental powers who are capable of traversing vast distances through space with their ability. The second discovery she made was that the aliens attacking Detritus were not simply mindless aggressors determined to wipe out humanity; instead they are members of an interstellar conglomeration called the Superiority, who are attempting to contain humanity within the planet. The Superiority hold a great fear of humans, who they see as an extremely dangerous and violent species, and Detritus is actually a prison planet/wildlife preserve where humans can live without disrupting the rest of the galaxy. Unfortunately, the actions of the DDF in reclaiming the surface and utilising spaceships have forced the Superiority to reconsider their approach, and they are now working to kill all the humans.

Usually this is the part of the review where I would give a brief plot synopsis of the new book and then go into an analysis of what I liked about it. However, this is going to prove a little hard to do without revealing some spoilers. While I don’t typically avoid talking about plot points that occur around 50-100 pages into book (I don’t particularly consider something happening that early to be a spoiler), I am a little more wary with Starsight. This is mainly because the plot of the book features some immediate substantial changes from the story that appeared in Skyward, none of which are really hinted at in any of the official online plot synopsis or book blurbs. As I am publishing this review a week before Starsight’s official release date, I think it is best that I put up a spoiler alert below, before I start going into the book in any real detail.

For those readers who do not want to risk any spoilers, I will say now that Starsight is an incredible book that I really, really enjoyed. Sanderson tells a wildly entertaining and highly addictive story that features some memorable characters, high-stakes events, some of the best science fiction action I have ever read and a ton of inventive world building. I honestly think that this is one of the best releases of 2019, and it easily gets a full five-star rating from me (if only I could go higher). I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in an epic science fiction read, and if you loved Skyward, you are going to love this book.

Anyway, if you are not interested in learning any more details about this book’s plot or characters (which I do explore to a substantial degree), I would suggest you stop reading now, as everything below this paragraph has a spoiler alert in effect.

 

SPOILER ALERT:

 

Starsight is set a few months after the events of Skyward, and humanity has been busy. Thanks to Spensa and Skyward Flight, as well as the advanced technology contained with M-Bot, the DDF has managed to capture several of the planet’s ancient orbiting defensive platforms, which have allowed them to push the Superiority forces out of Detritus’s obit. However, despite these successes, humanity is still trapped on Detritus, and the eventual Superiority mass retaliation will likely wipe out everyone on the planet. Their only chance at survival is to flee from Detritus and find a new planet to make their home, somewhere the Superiority cannot find them. However, the only way to do this is with some form of hyperdrive, which humanity lacks access to, and Spensa’s cytonic teleportation abilities are too restrictive for mass use.

The crash-landing of an unknown alien spacecraft on Detritus may provide the solution that will ensure humanity’s survival. The pilot of this craft is a member of a non-Superiority species who has been invited for diplomatic reasons to enlist in a new Superiority fighter squadron, and she is able to pass on the cytonic coordinates to the squadron’s base to Spensa. Disguised with M-Bot’s holographic technology, Spensa travels to the Superiority space city, Starsight, in order to infiltrate the Superiority military and find and steal a working hyperdrive.

Joining the new Superiority squadron, Spensa discovers that she and her fellow recruits are being trained to fight the delvers, titanic inter-dimensional beings that dwell in the nowhere, who are capable of devastating planets if they are drawn into our dimension by an over-use of cytonic ability. But as Spensa attempts to complete her mission, she finds herself caught amidst the politics of the various Superiority races, many of whom wish for the complete and utter destruction of her people. Can Spensa navigate the strange new world she finds herself in, or will her actions result in the destruction of all she knows?

As you can see from the above synopsis, Starsight goes in some very interesting and unpredictable directions. I personally loved all of these new story elements, and the idea of Spensa having to infiltrate a mostly unknown alien society was a really clever and intriguing central plot idea that I think worked extremely well. The subsequent narrative is a fantastic blend of different story elements, which includes some great new characters, settings and plot directions, as well as some of the best parts of Skyward. For example, not only do you get to see a whole new take on the excellent space fighter training plot point that made the first book so amazing, but you also get a science fiction spy thriller story filled with all manner of political intrigue. This was a fantastic book to get into, and Sanderson has made sure that the plot is accessible to readers who did not get a chance to check out Skyward last year. However, I would strongly recommend reading Skyward first, not only because it will give you a better idea of the characters and certain plot elements, but because it is such an awesome book in its own right.

One of my favourite things about the first book in the Skyward series was the excellent group of characters that Sanderson focused on, including Spensa, M-Bot and the members of Skyward Flight. Throughout Skyward the reader got to know and care for these characters, and it was actually a little bit distressing when bad things happened to them. Skyward continues to look at several of the characters from the first book, although readers who grew attached to Skyward Flight might be a tad disappointed as Sanderson shifts the focus away from them and introduces the reader to a whole new group of alien characters.

Spensa is still the main point-of-view character for this second book and serves as a fantastic central protagonist. In many ways, Spensa is still the same impatient and reckless pilot that was such to see in the first book. However, it soon becomes obvious that the experiences, relationships and life lessons that she has faced since joining the DDF have tempered her in many ways, especially as she has to deal with the intense responsibility of being her people’s greatest hope for survival. I really enjoyed watching Spensa as she was forced to assimilate into the alien cultures on Starsight, and it was interesting to see how she reacted when she realised not everyone there is as evil as she believed. The opinions and support she gives to her alien friends result in some emotional moments, and it was really heart-warming to see how far she has progressed since the last book.

While Spensa is a great central protagonist, to my mind the best character in the entire book is still her sentient ship, M-Bot. M-Bot is the snarky and hilarious artificial intelligence that Spensa discovered crashed on Detritus, and together they form an efficient and enjoyable team. M-Bot honestly has all the best lines in the book, and nearly every interaction with Spensa results in some excellent jokes or banter. Despite the humour, M-Bot is a pretty complicated character, especially as in this book he is attempting to work out the full limits of his consciousness and code. He is continuously attempting to prove that he is actually alive, and these attempts result in safeguards in his system attempting to shut him down. I really enjoyed the way that Sanderson continues to utilise M-Bot. Even though he is a ship, he is still a fantastic and highly enjoyable character to focus on and we even get a reason for his mushroom obsession in this book.

Spensa’s new flight of Superiority comrades features an eclectic bunch of aliens, each with their own quirks and unique personalities. These include a figment called Vapour, who is essentially a sentient smell that can take control of ships and pilot them. Vapour is the ultimate spy and requires Spensa to be constantly on her toes. There is also the dione draft, Morriumur. Dione are a race of non-violent aliens high up in the Superiority hierarchy, who have a unique breeding system that combines the parents into one new being. This is a process that can take several goes, as the family of the newly bred dione may choose to reform a young dione so that they have an ideal personality. Morriumur is a draft, spending the first few months of their life testing out their personality to see if they are an ideal member of the species. Morriumur, who has slightly more violent tendencies than most of their species, is trying to prove that they belong as a starfighter, but the combined expectations of their family and the inner thoughts that they are not worthy, are a constant hindrance to them as a pilot.

While both of the above characters are pretty cool, and Sanderson spends a good amount of time exploring them, two members of Spensa’s new flight really stood out. The first of these is Brade, a human from another prison world who has been recruited as a cytonic enforcer by one of the book’s central antagonists. Brade, after being taken from her parents as a child, has essentially been brainwashed all her life to consider humans as evil and inferior, and this has a major damaging effect on her psyche. The interactions between her and Spensa throughout the book are quite fascinating, and she proved to be one of the most complex characters in this book. My favourite new character, however, had to be Hesho, who is totally not king of the kitsen. The kitsen are a race of tiny gerbil-like aliens who have recently converted from a monarchy to a democracy in an attempt to become a Superiority race. Hesho leads a group of around 50 kitsen who pilot one heavily armed fighter in Spensa’s squadron like it’s a capital ship. Hesho and the kitsen are really hilarious characters, mainly because Hesho is attempting to convince the Superiority that he is no longer ruling his people as a king, and instead the kitsen have embraced democracy. Unfortunately, despite Hesho insisting he is no longer a monarch in every interaction he has, his people continue to worship him, which kind of undercuts this message. I also found the similarities in the personalities between the kitsen and the Spensa we first encountered in Skyward to be very amusing, as the kitsen attempt to compensate for their size with extreme confidence and boasting like Spensa used to (for example, the first ship we see the kitsen flying is called Big Enough to Kill You).

All of the above characters are great, and I really loved the way that I was once again drawn into their various personalities and histories. It was a bit of a shame not to see too much of the characters I liked so much from the first book (although we do get an idea of what various members of Skyward Flight are up to), but I think the new characters that Sanderson introduced more than made up for it.

In addition to the fantastic character work, one of the other best features of Starsight is the epic and fast-paced action sequences that punctuate much of the book. Just like in Skyward, Sanderson presents a huge number of different scenes where Spensa is fighting or training in a fighter. The sheer amount of detail that goes into these various action sequences is pretty amazing, and I was able to picture all the flying and manoeuvres perfectly. The author comes up with a number of clever new scenarios in this book, including the fancy flying and combat required to fight a delver, or having Spensa fly in the type of craft she has been fighting against for her entire military career. All of the action in this book is first-rate, and I can guarantee that you will get lost in some of the incredible action sequences.

I have always been impressed by the elaborate worlds that Sanderson can create for his stories. Whether it is the vast fantasy world that he came up with for The Stormlight Archive, the supervillain dominated alternate version of Earth that appeared in The Reckoners trilogy, or the fantastic science fiction planet of Detritus that was the main setting for Skyward, Sanderson always delivers complex and intricate settings for his story, complete with huge amounts of backstory. In Starsight, Sanderson once again produces a huge and detailed new setting for his outstanding story. The alien civilisation that is living on Starsight is very impressive, and I love all the different alien races that he has come up with for this story. Many of the aliens have some very complex and fascinating history, a great deal of which featured in the story. I really look forward to seeing how Sanderson expands this universe even further in the final book in the trilogy, and I cannot wait to see what new aliens or civilisations he comes up with.

As you can see from this rather lengthy review, there is a lot to love about this book. Sanderson does an impressive job of combining the intriguing new story direction, the amazing characters, intense action and fascinating new setting into one concise narrative, and the end result is a perfect book. While Starsight is being marketed as a young adult book, and indeed it would prove appropriate for most young readers, it is really a novel that can be enjoyed by any reader of any age. I cannot recommend this book enough, and I am eagerly awaiting the next book in this series (which seems to be 2021 at this point, so far away!).

Waiting on Wednesday – Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. I have been doing Waiting on Wednesday for a while now, but I have decided to start linking this up with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.

For this week’s Waiting on Wednesday I take a closer look at one of the books that recently featured on my Top Ten Most Anticipated July – December 2019 Releases list, Starsight by Brandon Sanderson.

Starsight Cover

Starsight is the second book in the young adult science fiction Skyward series from one of the best fantasy/science fiction authors in the world today. I absolutely loved the first book in the series, Skyward, which was one of the top books I read last year, and I have been eagerly waiting for this second book ever since I finished reading Skyward.

In Skyward, Sanderson introduced the reader to a story set far in humanity’s future. Years before, a fleet of human ships fled the mysterious aliens, the Krell, and crash-landed on a desolate planet. Forced to hide beneath the surface for generations to avoid attacks from Krell fighters, the humans were able to eventually fight back using their own space-fighters, resulting in a protracted battle for resources and survival. The first book focused on the character of Spensa Nightshade, a young woman who dreamed of becoming a pilot and fighting back against the Krell, but whose path for success was blocked by her father’s legacy as a deserter. Through determination and ability, Spensa was able to become a successful pilot, joining a crack squad of rookie pilots, finding an advanced sentient spaceship, totally not falling in love with her arrogant squad leader and saving the remnants of humanity from a massive Krell attack. However, while she was able to succeed, Spensa learnt two terrible truths: that her father truly was a traitor and that the planet they are living on is actually an alien prison, and the jailers are considering killing off the inmates.

This was a really cool piece of young adult science fiction, and I feel deeply in love with the captivating plot and well-written story. There are a lot of cool places that this series can now explore, and I am extremely curious to see what plot developments Sanderson comes up with next. A short plot synopsis for Starsight has already been released, although it is a bit thin on details at the moment.

Goodreads Synopsis:

All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing. The rumors of his cowardice are true–he deserted his flight during battle against the Krell. Worse, though, he turned against his team and attacked them.

Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars–and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie.

But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself–and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to.

There are not a lot of plot hints in this synopsis, but I am sure that Sanderson will do some fantastic things with the new story. I personally hope we’ll find out some more about humanity’s history and the reasons why all the alien races turned against them and attempted to contain them. The note about Spensa travelling to the end of the galaxy is interesting as it implies that the protagonist will head off-planet and attempt to discover some lost secrets or revelations. It also means that Spensa might get a lot of scenes with M-Bot, Spensa’s sentient spaceship, out in space. That sounds pretty good to me, as M-Bot was one of the best characters from the original book, despite spending most of the story trapped in a cave. I am also really hoping for a ton of epic space battles like we saw in the first book, which were just so amazing to read.

Despite the lack of solid plot descriptions, Starsight is pretty much at the top of my list of must-read books for this year, mainly because of how awesome Skyward was. If Sanderson continues with the same form he had for Skyward, and Sanderson is a pretty consistent writer with his series, then Starsight will probably be one of, if not the best young adult book of 2019. I am unsure whether I will get a physical copy of this book or whether I will try to get the audiobook format of Starsight instead. I had a lot of fun listening to Skyward last year, and Sophie Aldred did an excellent job narrating the first book, so I might just go with that again. Bottom line: Starsight has a lot of potential and I am going to have a hard time waiting until late November to get my hands on a copy.

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