Skyward by Brandon Sanderson (Book Review)
In December 2017, I saw Brandon Sanderson speak in Glasgow as part of his Oathbringer tour. Two important things happened that night. My then-11-year-old daughter was there (the only child present, even though Sanderson writes MG and YA stuff as well as his adult fiction) and he made a point of taking her question and speaking to her and encouraging her. He made her year and secured himself in my list of favourite authors. I already loved his work – now I also like and respect the man. The other thing was that he read from Skyward, the book he was working on at the time. I’ve been waiting to read it ever since.
Skyward is a YA space opera, so a bit outside of my usual fare. It is, however, utterly brilliant. I didn’t want to put it down. It is well paced and engaging, full of fun and adventure.
The last of the human race are trapped on a planet called Detritus, on which they crashed a couple of generations ago. Whenever they try to gather in number, they are attacked by Krell, the aliens who caused them to crash in the first place. But now they have ships and they’re fighting back.
Spensa’s father was a fighter-pilot, tasked with keeping the humans on Detritus safe from the Krell. He was a hero, one of the best pilots they had. There was only one problem. In a massive fight, he turned tail and ran, abandoning his duty and his fellow pilots. Or, at least, that’s the story that the DDF are telling. Spensa is outcast, the daughter of a coward. She never believes it, though – she knew her father and she never doubts him. She is determined to become a pilot and to find a way to clear her father’s name.
I loved Spensa. While at times she was foolish, it was in the believable way that people can be foolish – especially young people who don’t yet know as much as they think they do. Spensa is tough and funny and caring. She is so used to being pushed away that it takes her a while to settle into being part of a team. The characters are mostly well-drawn and convincing and the fight scenes are excellent.
There were times when I was a little frustrated with the characters for not asking questions that it seemed obvious they should be asking; however, Sanderson does well to portray the culture of obedience that has been instilled in the whole community, the way that pilots are treated as if they are more important than everyone else when it comes to privileges but their lives are less important than their planes.
I loved the growth arc for Spensa, how she has to re-evaluate what bravery really is and how being aware of your own limits does not make you a coward. Cobb is a brilliant teacher and his steadfastness is a wonderful rock for Spensa’s anger to beat against.
The world-building is excellent – as is to be expected from this author – and although there’s no magic system, some of the flying seems like magic.
Written with a YA audience in mind, this book is about the coming of age of a person as well as of a whole culture. It has fewer layers and is an easier read than some of Sanderson’s other works, but don’t read that as a criticism. This is a great fun read and I’m really looking forward to the next instalment.