Two years ago when I set out to attempt my first full cannonball, I asked friends and family on Facebook what their book suggestions were, Skyward was one of them. Later someone recommended it to me as a good introduction to author Brandon Sanderson, as I hadn’t read anything by him. Despite fantasy being my jam, he’s written so much of it that previously I’ve been flummoxed as to where to start. Ironically, I’m not starting with one of his fantasy novels. Skyward is science fiction, but as an example of Sanderson’s writing, it sets the bar high and I will definitely be seeking out his fantasy novels in the future.
Humanity used to travel between the stars but several generations ago aliens, Krell, attacked and forced the flagship Defiant, and accompanying support ships, to crash on a known planet called Detritus. The planet was named due to the vast quantity of space junk (smashed up ship yards, manufacturing facilities, and weapons) that orbited it, so much so that it is impossible to see out into space from the surface of the planet. Light shines down from massive light panels that hang in the sky. Humans had once lived here, and though long gone, traces of them and their technology remained. Not content to drive them to the planet, the Krell seemed intent on wiping humans out as they bombed settlements and any large gathering of humans. This drove the humans deeper into the planet, breaking them apart into clans based on their roles in serving their small fleet. But humanity has been regrouping and nine years ago won a massive victory allowing them to build and maintain Alta Base on the surface.
Nine years ago, Spensa was a weird little girl who dreamed she was a starfighter pilot, like her father, and also a bloodthirsty warrior wreaking havoc on the Krell. But then the Battle of Alta happened, her father turned coward, flying from combat and was shot down by his own side for desertion. Now she is a weird young woman who has spent her life since that fateful day defiant in her belief that her father didn’t runaway. But being branded the daughter of a coward pushed Spensa and her family to the edge of society, looked down on by everyone in their cavern. Raised on her Gran-Gran’s stories of Spensa’s mighty ancestors on Earth (Beowulf, Odysseus, Ghengis Khan, Sun Tzu, and others), she tends to rage in a barbaric fashion when her anger is aroused.
Always attack from a position of superior advantage” I said. “When this is done, Jerkface, I will hold your tarnished and melted pin up as my trophy as your smoldering ship marks your pyre, and the final resting place of your crushed and broken corpse!”
Spensa’s society is built around the concept of defiance, due to the name of their flagship, Defiant, and their ongoing war with the Krell. It is a military industrial complex that works as a whole to build ships that can defend them from Krell incursions. And while society might pay lip service to defiance, it doesn’t matter that Spensa has the right spirit and believes in their mission, she is the daughter of a coward and will forever be regarded with contempt. All Spensa has ever wanted is to be is a pilot, to fly and dog fight with aliens. But the road there is made intentionally harder for Spensa due to her father, with the higher ups trying to break her and prove that she is a coward too. Spensa has spent all her life sure in the belief of her father’s innocence and that she would never turn tail and run. But knowledge and experience have a way of shaking up a person’s beliefs and as she moves deeper within the system, Spensa realizes that she might be looking at things wrong.
Skyward reminds me of other classic sci-fi such as Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers, young people brought up quickly through a military industrial complex learning to fight (fly) together as a team and not everything being as it seems on the surface. However, Skyward stands firmly on it’s own. I relished my time with Spensa, a character I’m used to seeing as male so it’s refreshing to have a female in the role of brash, headstrong, ferocious, rebellious, and determined hero. The book has a dystopian feel with all the knowledge and tech that were lost in the initial crash and then subsequent bombardment. Humanity is on the edge of a fragile bubble, faced with the obvious danger of the Krell and the internal stress of people questioning the order of society.
This is an excellent book that now has me pumped to read more by Brandon Sanderson, once I find space in my TBR! The sequel, Starsight, however may leap into the top of the pile. Now that I’m finished, I look forward to giving this to my 6th grader and see her reaction.