Review: Skyward (Skyward #1) by Brandon Sanderson

39348113. sy475 SYNOPSIS:

Spensa’s world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what’s left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa’s dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with that of her father’s—a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa the daughter of a coward, her chances of attending Flight School slim to none.

No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, yet fate works in mysterious ways. Flight school might be a long shot, but she is determined to fly. And an accidental discovery in a long-forgotten cavern might just provide her with a way to claim the stars.

RATING: ☆★☆★

Skyward felt like a prelude.

The raw energy of the closing pages rattles; I started every sentence without knowing where it was going, half-terrified of where it might end. My heart was still pounding from the airy danger of it, even after the turning of the last page. When I looked up, the bedlam of motion inside the coffeeshop where I sat was an underwater warble, and I felt the sort of disorientation you only get when you are pulled out of one world and back into another. That’s what any good story does, I suppose.

“Is anything fair?” He smiled.
“Death is. He treats us all the same.”

Spensa “Spin” Nightshade was going to be a pilot. As a 7-year-old, she dreamed of it with the raw hope of a child who looked at the stars as if her very soul had unfurled and stretched out to meet it. As a 17-year-old young woman, she knew it with the boundless confidence of a youth who assumed the world will contort itself to accommodate her desires.

But Spensa’s name was full of her father’s cowardice in a way nobody could miss. It was a burden and a responsibility. For ten years, Spensa had tried to piece together a father who was gone from rumors that spoke of him deserting his team, of betraying his people. They spewed at her. They poured at her. But when it is all boiled away, what is always left is that wanting, hard and spare and alive: to prove herself, to clear her father’s name, and to fight for humanity’s survival.

Even if that meant breaking the rules, leaving them smashed and glittering in her wake.

“Remember, Spensa. 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.”

The novel, the first in Branderson’s latest series, soared through the autumn and winter of 2018 on a frenzy of love, drawing a cornucopia of rave reviews and dominating bestseller lists. And I have to say—it is well-deserved.

Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as it unfolds in slow but ultimately satisfying layers. The meticulous plotting comes off as the work of someone in absolute charge of his craft. The journey may occasionally feel protracted for some, but the latter section is particularly dynamic, full of even more intrigue, adventure and go-for-the-throat thrills. Skyward brims with details that build out into a vast, intricate world which, remarkably, still leaves plenty to explore. It’s a good thing that Sanderson has 4 more books planned for this series as there’s a lot to set up. It’s clear that the author is only getting warmed up; the political and intergalactic machinations that swirled around Spensa had much left to play out. And if Sanderson’s goal was to make his readers clamor for more, I’m pleased to say that he accomplished that goal with flying colors.

Skyward is fun, but there’s a deep layer of story at work. Sanderson paints real-world concerns like classism, war profiteering, and patriotic jingoism with piercing resonance. The novel examines, with brilliance and verve, the dangerous culture of martyrdom that is deeply embedded in the DDF—the Defiant Defense Force—and which had, for many years, been preserved in false perfection.

Spensa, who recited Defiance like a litany and ripped herself to rags against the sharp and ugly poetry of it, determined to never be called a coward, is confronted with a truth like ice water: the DDF bleeds great gouts of young pilots in the deadly battles against the Krell, but spares the sons and daughters of the elite who are pulled out from the Academy by their wealthy and well-connected parents when the peril becomes too real. Spensa had thought she could join the DDF and vie for the only chance she would ever have at glory, she built her life around that dream, but Spensa soon discovers that her government’s talk of glory and heroism, all their promises, wore a thinner veil than a funeral shroud. Spensa didn’t want to be a part of this machine anymore. But the machine didn’t care. The machine went on grinding and catching her up in its gears.

Spensa’s character development doesn’t stop there. All her life the mystery of what had really happened the day her father was unequivocally branded a coward hung over her, and she had hardly dared hope that she might get the answers she longed for like the prize at the end of a long and difficult game. When Spensa does, the truth of it strikes her backhanded, and her heart—for the second time—splits in two and goes to war against itself. The truth—and the sharp certainty of it lodges itself inside Spensa—is never how we want it: clear-cut and shining, a perfect moral center leading us all back home.

“Sometimes, the answers we need don’t match the questions we’re asking.” He looked up at me. “And sometimes, the coward makes fools of wiser men.”

That is, I think, what I relished most about this book: the way the author gives his characters plenty of room to fumble and triumph. He made a list of characters that kept getting longer (then, heartbreakingly, shorter) and injected them with enough interiority to keep his readers riveted. Spensa’s journey, in particular, is wonderful to watch, and her potential narrative paths for the sequel are very intriguing.

I can’t wait to see where Sanderson takes her.

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