by Brandon Sanderson
“People need stories, child. They bring us hope, and that hope is real.”
Published Nov. 6, 2018 by Delacorte Press
Genre: science fiction
Date finished: Jan. 5, 2019
Content warnings: loss of friends and family members, war scenes
Spensa’s world has been under attack for hundreds of years. An alien race called the Krell leads onslaught after onslaught from the sky in a never-ending campaign to destroy humankind. Humanity’s only defense is to take to their ships and combat the Krell. Pilots are the heroes of what’s left of the human race.
Becoming a pilot has always been Spensa’s dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring above the earth and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with that of her father–a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa’s chances of attending Flight School at slim to none.
No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, but she is determined to fly. And the Krell just made that a possibility. They’ve doubled their fleet, which will make Spensa’s world twice as deadly . . . but just might take her skyward.
My thoughts (spoiler free)
Do you ever read a book that’s so far up your alley it’s practically in your house?
At first glance, Skyward might not seem like it’s exactly my type of book. I don’t read much hard sci-fi, after all. But looking at the elements that make up this book – complex female MC who can’t handle having emotions, specialized and competitive school, a non-human character who gradually acts more human, epic battle scenes, hints at a slow-burn romance to come – this book is basically screaming my name.
Skyward takes place on a planet called Detritus (already sounds so appealing, doesn’t it?), where humans have settled underground to protect themselves from an alien race called the Krell. Pilots are highly respected, since they risk their lives to protect civilization. Spensa wants nothing more than to become a pilot herself, but her father’s cowardice and death in battle when she was young means her chances of acceptance into flight school are slim to none. However, a discovery in a cave might change all of that for her.
First off, I want to talk about Spensa, aka Spin, aka my daughter.
Spensa falls into one of the best female character archetypes in the world. Many of my favorite female characters (Katsa from Graceling, Deryn from Leviathan, Vin from Mistborn (another Brandon Sanderson book 🤔), Jane from Dread Nation) fit this archetype and I can never get enough of it. These characters are tough, snarky, and have no idea how to deal with having actual human emotions. They would rather punch someone in the face than deal with emotions that they don’t understand. I want to love and protect all of them with my life.
Spensa is a beautifully complex character. I love how she just *clenches fist* represses anything that’s goes against her facade of fearlessness and defiance, telling herself that she can’t show any weakness without being branded a coward like her father, and thus can’t process her own trauma and sense of helplessness at seeing friends and loved ones get hurt. Her status as daughter of a coward means she lashes out at anyone who questions her bravery and ability. This can certainly make her unlikeable at times, but I don’t think it’s possible to read this book without feeling for her pain.
And her character development over the course of the novel! *kisses fingers* Flawless. This book had so much to say about what true courage and defiance looks like vs. what Spensa starts out believing it to be. Her growth as a character is inspiring and beautiful to watch.
So as you can probably tell, Spensa’s character was my favorite aspect of this novel. But it was far from the only amazing thing about it!
It’s impossible to talk about Spensa’s character without talking about the worldbuilding, since she is such a product of this society. Brandon Sanderson didn’t just create a planet and a place for his characters to inhabit – he created a culture. This warrior culture, which is pretty similar to what we now call toxic masculinity, emphasizes fearlessness and repression – any expression of emotions other than anger and aggression are looked down upon. These qualities seem necessary when one is constantly at war. It’s through this culture that Spensa learns her behavior, and since her father was seen as a coward, she feels like she has to overcompensate by acting more aggressive. Even though I wasn’t always entirely sure of the geography and layout of this world, the culture is so fleshed out, and for me that’s even more important.
I was happily surprised by how attached I got to the secondary characters as well! Spensa’s classmates and friends were a major part of the novel and each one was distinctive. I’m really looking forward to diving more into Spensa’s relationships with some of them in the rest of this series.
And M-Bot… I don’t want to say too much about M-Bot to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that M-Bot was probably my second favorite aspect of the novel and one of my other favorite character archetypes: the inhuman character who starts out baffled by human behavior and grows not only to understand it more but to act more human. M-Bot was absolutely hilarious too, adding some much-needed levity to the novel and actually making me giggle out loud at several points.
Brandon Sanderson proves himself, once again, to be a masterful storyteller through this novel. All of the different plot threads are perfectly balanced and interwoven, playing off each other to create tension and keeping the story going even during the slower parts. There was no point during this novel that I was bored and wanted to skip ahead – I was kept engaged for every second.
The battle scenes were so intense! I felt like I was watching a movie while I was reading, since I could picture everything so clearly. Even though there are plenty of technical, sci-fi-ish terms thrown around, they’re inserted into the story smoothly enough that I was never left wondering what something looked like or how it worked. Everything just flowed seamlessly.
There were moments that the dialogue felt a teensy bit stilted, like it was trying too hard to sound teenager-y, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment too much.
I feel like I could talk for hours about how fun, fast-paced, and epic this book is. It’s no small thing – over 500 pages – but I flew through it in a matter of days because it captured me from the first pages. I had no idea how much I would love this book. With themes of bravery, legacy, loss, and war, this book is a must read for any sci-fi/fantasy readers.
Also, throwback to last summer when I met Brandon Sanderson at BookExpo and got a sampler of this book but didn’t think of anything to say beforehand, panicked, told him I was excited to read it, and practically ran away. Quite an understatement there, past-Margaret. Also, embarrassing. 😬
“Bravery isn’t about what people call you, Spensa. It’s about who you know yourself to be.”