Book Review : Skyward

Book Review : SkywardSkyward (Skyward, #1) by Brandon Sanderson
on November 6th 2018
Pages: 546
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Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

In my household, author Brandon Sanderson is always referred to as “my man, Brandon Sanderson.” I know when I pick up one of his novels, whether intended for adults or young adults, I am in for a treat with well-developed characters and fantastic world-building. With Skyward, I was immediately intrigued by the world-building, but I was a bit surprised to find that this sizable novel was very geared towards younger audiences (it’s marketed as ages 12 and up for a reason). I don’t recall his other books marketed for younger audiences, such as The Rithmatist and Steelheart being quite this brazenly suited for younger readers. I felt that a lot of the characters didn’t have the same amount of development as in Sanderson’s other novels and that things happened too fast.


I’m ashamed to admit that because of this intended young teen audience, and the simplification of the writing, I almost gave up on Skyward several times. Especially after the first day of flight training, young pilot-in-training Spensa ends up in the sky in actual warfare. No way that would actually happen, right? But despite this and the fact that most of Spensa’s fellow flight members seemed more like walking tropes than actual developed characters, I told myself that I couldn’t just stop reading a Brandon Sanderson book and stuck with it.  And I am really glad I did, though I definitely struggled to make any progress throughout the first half of the novel.  Luckily, as Skyward progresses and the main character matures, the novel becomes much more enjoyable.


“Our planet, Detritus, was protected by several enormous layers of ancient space debris. Junk that was way up high, outside the air, in space. Wrecked space stations, massive metal shields, old chunks of metal big as mountains—there were many layers of it, kind of like broken shells around the planet.”


What kept me reading Skyward was my interest in the unique world-building and the mysteries surrounding it. Main character Spensa tells readers that her people, known as Defiants, are all descended from a huge space ship that crash landed on their current junk-ridden planet Detritus. Each person on the planet can trace themselves and their families back to the crew members of this ship, and they eventually formed clans based on the jobs they held on the ship. Unfortunately for these Defiants, they weren’t the only ones on their new planet. and they are soon caught up in warfare with hostile aliens known as the Krell.


“They either stood their ground, or they gave up on ever becoming a true civilization again.”


Forced to live in caves in order to avoid the attack from the Krell, the Defiants finally manage to install a single military base, with planes to fight back scrapped from the junk belt that wraps around the planet. The drive for capable bodies to fight the huge numbers of Krell is the main force of the Defiant’s society, who could at any moment be wiped out by a single of the Krell’s “lifebuster” bombs. Spensa, the daughter of a publicly disgraced and deceased pilot, forces her way into the DDF (Detritus Defense Force) to fulfill her dream of becoming a pilot and clearing her father’s name. This path is anything but easy, as the admiral and former flight member of her father personally has in it for Spensa, forcing her to live in caves instead of bunking with her flight members and to live off of eating rats. 


Spensa never gives up, even when she has very real doubts on the likelihood of her success and survival. At first, I found Spensa to be really grating. She has a chip on her shoulder the size of her planet, entirely derived from daddy issues, so she compensates with bizarre bravado, like:


“The most wonderful sound ever is the lamentations of my enemies, screaming my name toward the heavens with ragged, dying voices.”


At times, it’s hilarious, but it gets old really fast due to the sheer frequency of it. As Skyward progresses and she’s met with the harsh realities of her new career, as well as the untimely deaths of her flightmates, Spensa is forced to grow up and gets a lot more depth to her. It’s a really rewarding journey that I’m glad I stuck around for. I also really enjoyed watching her rivalry turn into a possible future romance with her flight leader, Jorgen, callsign Jerkface. 


That had been some awesome flying. “Hey, Jerkface…,” I started. He spun on me, and practically snarled. “You. We need to talk, cadet. You are in serious need of an attitude adjustment.” 

What? Right when I was going to compliment him? “Coincidentally,” I snapped, “you are in serious need of a face adjustment.”


The other standouts of Skyward for me were of course, M-Bot, a talking AI on a spaceship, and Doomslug. The effortless sassiness of the M-Bot is what Christopher Paolini tried and failed to do with his own spaceship AI in To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. Somehow, M-Bot’s mouthiness made Spensa even more likable and I laughed at a lot of their exchanges. And I love that this scrappy girl manages to befriend a weird alien space slug, which she names Doomslug of all things, on top of defying everyone’s expectations. 


I’m not the biggest reader of science fiction novels either, but somehow Skyward managed to keep me on the edge of my seat with the constant descriptions of flight maneuvers and battle tactics, which is no mean feat. I’m the type of person that usually skims battles in novels, preferring to read character development than descriptions of every tedious action, but I found that I did not skim through any of the fight or training sequences. I was very interested in the chatter on the radio between flight members, the tactics of using light lances (grappling hooks made of energy), and the team maneuvers and strategies the pilots used in order to even the odds. 


My interest in all of these battle scenes was really shocking to me. For me, Skyward easily overcame the similar shadow of Ender’s Game. I was also really pleasantly surprised with the more space fantasy direction the novel went in as well, when it finally answers more of the mysteries surrounding Spensa’s father and the Krell. I also enjoyed Sanderson’s adept weaving in of commentary on the society of the Defiant, which values planes over pilots and bravery over life. It was really thrilling to see Spensa challenge those norms, encouraged by her less than by the book teacher, and carve out a new path. 


“The DDF had a reason to be desperate. When cadets flew, it wasn’t only for practice—or even because the DDF was callous with lives. It was because we needed more pilots in the air, however inexperienced.”


Though Skyward was definitely not my favorite Brandon Sanderson novel I’ve ever read, I did end up really enjoying watching Spensa defy societal expectations in order to claim the stars themselves. I think fans of science fiction, or younger audiences just getting into the genre, will absolutely eat this novel up. And for those that aren’t the biggest fans of science fiction, like myself, there is still plenty to like in main character Spensa, and her eccentric AI, flightmates, and her unique quest to save humanity.

Book Review : Skyward - Blogging with Dragons

Posted January 18, 2021 in Book Reviews, Science Fiction


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