I recently finished Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward, part one of the series of the same name. It’s a young adult novel, meaning it’s not stuffed to the brim with sex and violence. And, you know, that’s fine.
A Tale of Two Series
I have to get something off my chest first. A colleague of mine recommended this book, but when I went looking for it on Amazon, Amazon misled me. You see: there are two series by Brandon Sanderson, one called Skyward, and the other called Skyward Flight, with the first book called Sunreach — not to be confused with Starsight, which is Skyward part 2. Amazon mashed the two up in its listing, and both have a ‘part 1 of the series’.
Long story short, I picked the wrong one. Now, the Skyward Flight series is set far enough apart from the main series that I only started to get suspicious about a third in. I checked the listing… no, it was part 1 in the series. Only halfway through did I really dive into it and figured out I was reading a different series that’s set after the first two books of the original series. Well, great, that was two books spoiled.
Now, I hate spoilers. And while it doesn’t spoil too much, the book does spoil more than I’d like. It really cuts into the plot twists if you already have a pretty good idea what’s up. I decided to finish Sunreach anyway and then continue with Skyward. It was too late anyway, but I’m still a bit pissed.
So, if you decide to pick it up, be careful which one you get.
Spensa lives on a planet called Detritus. The last of remnants of humanity crashed their ship there two generations ago, and have been hiding in caves ever since. A race called the Krell are trying to hunt them to extinction. The planet protects the humans somewhat, as layers of ancient human space platforms surround the planet like a shell and shoot down anything hostile. However, Krell incursions and bombardments prevent humanity from getting back to anything like civilization.
Then the nomadic humans discover a factory beneath the planet that can produce starfighters. They start to fight back. Spensa’s father is one of the pilots flying these fighters. One day, the Krell discover the hidden human base, and try to destroy it. The humans fight back and manage to drive off the Krell. One fighter flees the battle, though, a coward: Spensa’s father. His squadron shoots him down, then the rest of them continue to fight and win the epic struggle.
Ever since that battle, Spensa and her mother and grandmother have lived on scraps. The humans created a city, ending their nomadic existence, but Spensa and her family are virtual outcasts, branded ‘the family of a coward’.
Spensa hunts rats in the surrounding caverns, to eat and sell. Her dream is to graduate for flight school and become a pilot. Because everybody can try the test. Unfortunately, she is caught deep in her dead father’s shadow and those in charge conspire against her at every step…
Spensa is the protagonist of the story. Her grandmother has filled her head with stories of the heroes past. Not resigned to her fate, she fights hard to achieve her dream of flying. Unfortunately, there’s more going on than she thinks, but that doesn’t stop her. She’s stubborn, and the worst thing she can imagine is people branding her a coward. She has to learn, though, that being careful is not the same as being a coward.
Jorgen is Spensa’s flight leader. He’s her foil. Where Spensa’s father’s legacy holds Spensa in a life of poverty, Jorgen’s wealthy family has put a different but maybe even tighter leash on Jorgen’s future. He is destined to lead his family, and only allowed in flight school for appearances sake. Jorgen is a stickler for rules, where Spensa is all emotion. They hate each other on sight, but over time, things change.
Rodge is Spensa’s only real friend. A smart young man, who follows Spensa to flight school, only to quickly discover that piloting a ship is not for him. He’s better suited to be an engineer. He only followed Spensa to be her friend, but flying is her dream, not his. He dreams of machines, and luckily, events are in his favor.
The antagonist of the story is Admiral Judy “Ironsides” Ivans. She leads the human fighter force, and is determined to keep Spensa out of the sky. She is hindered, though, by appearances and tradition, and a desire to find out more about a physical defect that runs in the Spensa’s family.
Then, there’s Cobb. Cobb is Spensa’s father’s wingmate. He does not fly any more, but he does teach new cadets. He’s grouchy and unorthodox, but he also doesn’t share Ironsides beliefs. He’s one of Spensa’s staunhest allies, even if he has secrets of his own.
The rest of the story is filled with the other cadets in Spensa’s flight, and another character I will not reveal — spoilers and all — in to form a pretty good total cast.
Skyward is a fun read. Reminiscent of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, but with the boarding-school trope added to it. The main character is a bit of a Mary Sue, but has enough flaws to compensate for her better-than-everybody-else vibe, and there is a good reason for her to be different and obstinate, which makes a world of difference.
All in all, I can recommend this book if you want a fun coming-of-age scifi-starfighter novel. But if you’re looking for hard SF, or Game of Thrones in Space, you’re better off with the Expanse.