Brandon Sanderson’s Cytoverse, in which the Cytonic series takes place, just got a whole lot bigger. Starsight follows Skyward with another epic space adventure. There’s a lot to love in Starsight but the book suffers from some classic foibles.
After discovering The Krell are humanity’s galactic babysitters, Spensa and her plucky flight crew bust through the debris bordering Detritus and try to take them down. One day, a mysterious ship crashes on the planet, bringing a message from a far-off world. Spensa feels a pull to a location somewhere in space—this alien’s planned destination—and, using her cytonic spacefaring abilities, she thinks she can get there. The distant destination is fading fast from her mind, so she needs to act quickly. With the help of the semi-sentient ship M-Bot, she programs her bracelet to disguise her as the alien, then hyperjumps to Starsight, a major hub for the Superiority. The Superiority rules much of the galaxy under the guise of peace, and they’re suddenly searching for adept pilots to join a task force. Spensa, though disguised, seems the perfect fit for the job.
Before I review Starsight, let me discuss The Golden Compass Problem. It’s my term for a storytelling problem common in sci-fi and fantasy. A book suffers from The Golden Compass Problem when it establishes a cool and unique world, either for much of a single book or a whole novel, then abandons it for a different world later in the story or in book two. The grass isn’t always greener, as we learn in The Subtle Knife after The Golden Compass. Caveats are required, of course: a book can venture to a new setting to find a wealth of story material or expand the world. Often, though, storytellers will shove their carefully-honed locale to the side in favor of another. The worst offender isn’t even The Subtle Knife, in my opinion. That award goes to Six of Crows, which leaves its boardwalk gambling hub for an ice-town.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. Starsight suffers from The Golden Compass Problem to some degree. I can see what Sanderson is doing here. Skyward stayed rooted on Detritus, and we learned of the characters living there, the forces at play, and the lay of the land. In Starsight, we head to the titular city-planet-satellite where various Superiority citizen species make their home. Spensa, M-Bot, and Doomslug remain the focus, but we meet new characters and start from scratch in a new location. It’s forgivable for two reasons: 1) it’s interesting, and 2) Sanderson is clearly setting up for a longer narrative climax.
The species we meet on Starsight are intriguing as all hell. Dione mates combine into a “draft” being, who lives for a few months (as a melded version of the two parents) before the parents decide whether that version of their child is the right move. Kitsen are small fox-like creatures who have a hilarious idea of what democracy is. Figments are sentient smells. The species Sanderson creates are cool and interesting. I genuinely enjoyed learning about them.
Then we have the plot, which busts wide open compared to the tight story on offer in Skyward. Political allegiances are tested, and the pilots sent to try out for the Superiority’s space force begin to question the government’s motives. There’s a lot to chew on, and Sanderson navigates it all without leaving the reader in his dust.
Who does he leave in the dust, though? Jorgen, Cobb, Kimmalyn, and the others from Skyward. I want to be careful and give credit where it’s due. We get interludes from Jorgen’s perspective, and the book visits Detritus heavily in the beginning and the end. But instead of a direct sequel, this feels like an adjacent entry into the Cytonic series. I’m genuinely excited for what the third book brings, because I expect it to tie the stories of books one and two together in ways we didn’t get here.
I say all of this as if it’s a big knock on Starsight. To be clear, I really enjoyed the book. I had to level-set my expectations once Sanderson whipped me in a completely new direction. Once I found my footing, I delighted in the diverse sci-fi concepts he cooked up.
For the most part, I’m thrilled to see what comes next. The Cytonic series is a fun, fast-paced adventure thus far, and I think book three will continue the tradition. Starsight may have left Detritus, but it maintained the Cytonic spirit.
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