Skyward, Brandon Sanderson

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Bravery isn’t about what people call you, Spensa. It’s about who you know yourself to be

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. 

* * * * *
5 / 5

I have loved everything I have ever read by Brandon Sanderson. I love some of them more than others (sorry Mistborn, but you’re at the bottom somewhere), and yet still my foolish self was reluctant to pick up Skyward because I’m not a big alien fan. I just don’t like books about aliens. Well, I was a fool. This book is a masterpiece and it didn’t have that many aliens in it anyway.

“You get to choose who you are. Legacy, memories of the past, can serve us well. But we cannot let them define us. When heritage becomes a box instead of an inspiration, it has gone too far.”

Skyward is a story about survival in the face of extinction, about fear and living every day like you might be bombed to death by aliens and you don’t even know why. It’s about friendship and loyalty and what it means to be brave when you’ve been told every day of your life that running is cowardice and honour is going down in a blaze of glory. It’s about duty and sacrifice and being a difficult, awkward, rebellious teenage girl who wants the truth but can’t handle it. Skyward has everything: unknown aliens, a mysterious war, talking spaceships, a bucketload of teenaged angst and a totally cringeworthy, irritating and yet absolutely heart-warming and inspiring main character.

Spensa lives under the ground of Detritus with the remnants of the human race. They are hunted by the Krell, aliens that they have never properly seen who come at them, armed with destructors and bombs, in spaceships through the deadly protective rings of the planet which were constructed by unknown peoples. On Detritus, the greatest honour is to be a pilot, to fly in defence of the people hidden down below. Her father was one of the First Citizens, a fighter in the Battle of Alta around fifteen years ago that changed the tide of the war and enabled humanity to begin to grow. Unfortunately for Spensa, her father turned his ship and fled the fight, and was gunned down by his wingmate as an example. She is branded the daughter of a coward and must fight tooth and nail to achieve her dream of the skies.

“Do you realize what it’s doing to our society to train our children, practically from birth, to idealize and glorify fighting? We should be teaching our children to be more caring, more inquisitive—not only to destroy, but to build.” 

This is a young adult novel and so, compared to Sanderson’s other novels like The Way of Kings, the tone is lighter and the “flight school” setting is more typical YA. Do not mistake this for thinking that Skyward is not a seriously good book, because it is. It made me laugh and cry and cringe. The relationships between the characters were great and everyone felt like a real person. The plot twisted and turned and its revelations continually surprised me.

Spensa defies the odds to attend flight school. She is in a flight of ten and only one or two are expected to graduate and fight against the Krell. Compared to the other cadets – either the smartest of their colonies or the children of First Citizens who did not flee the Krell – Spensa feels inadequate. She shows it. This girl has a chip on her shoulder like someone took a hatchet to her. And I can’t blame her. This makes her aggressive, awkward, and a hilarious hot mess. Every other sentence out of her mouth is cringeworthy and so very teenaged. She struggles against that which she perceives to be unfair – and some of it is unfair – but Spensa blossoms wonderfully as the world opens up around her and she realises that yeah, actually other people do sometimes know more than you. Sometimes they know better. Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair and it’s for a good reason.

“Tremble and fear, all enemies!” he shouted. “For we shall shake the air with thunder and blood! Your doom is imminent!” 

But enough about that! Most of the book is about Spensa’s flight training, about learning to fight the Krell and the truth about her father. She finds a crashed, ancient ship with a seemingly sentient AI in a cave and refits it. Her classmates are all wonderfully fleshed out and distinct people, including Jorgen, the rich privileged boy, and Rig, Spensa’s childhood friend (I loved Rig and I loved how he found what he truly loved, rather than being caught up in Spensa’s dreams). There’s precious little romance in the book, which was refreshing, and Sanderson managed to pull off the “sassy starship AI” without it being too much.

Skyward is a book about wonder and growth and bravery. Sometimes I wanted to smack Spensa up and down the head for her stubborn beliefs and her commitment to the idea that “backing down is cowardice” and that bravery is going down in your ship. She was foolish and so very young and so full of the certainty that I remember having at seventeen that you know how the world works and what beliefs are right to hold. Her growth and change is a pleasure to read about and Skyward as a whole book is a masterpiece of young adult literature.

 

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