What’s a Brandon Sanderson fan to do after he’s all caught up on the Cosmere? Read Brandon Sanderon’s other books, of course. That’s how I found Skyward, a pleasant surprise of a book that explores ideas better left out of Sanderson’s Cosmere. I finished Rhythm of War some months ago, and I wanted some Sanderson to tide me over until November, when The Lost Metal releases. Skyward’s high-flying sci-fi vibe is oodles of fun, and it’s got all the trappings of a classic Sanderson tale.
Spensa wants to fly. Her world is besieged by the Krell, and she wishes to join the fight in her own ship and defeat them once and for all. She aims to follow in her father’s footsteps. However, her dad—once a decorated pilot—fled from battle and had to be shot down by his own flight crew. The man was branded a coward and his family veiled in shame across Detritus, the planet they live on. Still, Spensa plans to gain access to flight school and take to the stars to prove cowardice doesn’t run in her family.
Skyward reads like a YA Top Gun. I say this as a skeptic who steers clear of YA and despises Top Gun, but I adored this book. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a fun space romp with plenty of mystery, action, and character development. In typical Sanderson fashion, the author leaves plenty of juicy morsels on the table for the second helping (Starsight, which I plan to read next).
Skyward sees Spensa enter flight school against all odds. Her father’s legacy follows her everywhere, and the powers that be don’t want her reputation ruining the buttoned-up flight school program on Detritus. Here, Sanderson doles out SFF-school tropes with reckless abandon. There’s an outwardly gruff but warmhearted seargent, a privileged rival (complete with two cronies!), and world-ending stakes that put students in constant danger. While these tropes are fun and Sanderson lends his own special flair, I think each is is done better elsewhere within the genre. In other words, you might not find anything new or fresh in Skyward. It doesn’t tread a ton of new ground, but it does celebrate the rad stuff that makes sci-fi fun and great.
Skyward diverges from this issue in the final 100 pages or so. The Sanderlanche is strong here, bringing Spensa’s tale to an explosive and cliffhanging end. As I’ve come to expect, Sanderson resolves many of the mysteries he laid out early on, then presents us with plenty of new ones to mull over between books. I appreciated this in Skyward particularly because I couldn’t predict the plot as it sped along. YA books often (but not always) feel like they don’t trust the reader, and it leads to hamfisted reveals that any savvy reader could see coming from miles away. That isn’t the case in Skyward, which respects its audience enough to let them piece things out on their own. I am genuinely interested to see what happens in Starsight, and I haven’t felt so engaged in a YA novel in quite some time.
The cast of characters in Skyward is hit or miss; many characters fall into archetypal territory. Some break free of their stereotypes—Jorgen aka JerkFace, Spensa’s early rival at flight school, is a great example of this—but others remain silhouettes against a vibrant and detailed backdrop.
By far my favorite part of Skyward is Spensa’s journey of self-discovery. She’s cast out because of her father’s actions and populates her early pages with ramblings about drinking the blood of her enemies. She’s an angry young woman because she doesn’t know what else she can be. Piloting a ship and fighting the Krell consumes her; the goal is her identity. But then, like so many of us who struggle to find who we are, she encounters perspectives outside of her own and starts to become part of a community. By the end of the book, she still isn’t fully realized, but she’s come a long way and can better understand those around her, even if they have different upbringings and experiences. Sanderson excels at this sort of character growth, and Skyward thrives in that zone.
From lift-off to landing, Brandon Sanderson’s jet-boosted Skyward novel opens a series with characteristic flair. Sci-fi ideas abound, and though they aren’t all groundbreaking, they combine to form a fun and interesting series opener. I’m pumped to see what happens next, and that’s about all I can ask for from a spacefaring sci-fi.
Rating: Skyward – 8.5/10