Spensa is teenage girl dreaming of becoming a fighter pilot to battle against the alien race whose raids keep her offshoot of humanity confined to an insignificant speck of a planet. Unfortunately, she is the daughter of a pilot infamous for an act of cowardice during the first counterattack, and armed with only her intellect, tenacity and defiance she intends to prove wrong those who would brand her the same.
In both fiction and reality the children of successful parents often have to live up to their famous deeds, but Spensa’s life has been the opposite. She is tainted by the legacy of a father who died when she was a small child, yet is treated by almost everyone as though his actions were her fault and should be blamed for them. Her attempt to fight the system while also operating within it provides an interesting dynamic for the story to take, and her isolation is compounded by her flight class being uneasy of her, and her only true allies being her genius mechanic childhood friend and the sarcastic AI of a crippled fighter jet with mysterious origins.
To begin with, some characters come across as a little one-dimensional, in particular the military’s admiral who seems to take it as a personal affront that Spensa is even being considered as a pilot, but over time their personalities are gradually developed and it’s made clear that everyone has reasons for what they do, regardless of whether or not others agree with them.
Characters come and go for various reasons, with some even being abruptly killed off in the middle of their development. It adds some welcome uncertainly often lacking in stories such as these, where certain characters are tagged as significant to the protagonist and so can be safely assumed to be in it for the long hall. Here, however, it becomes firmly established that anyone can be killed off at a given moment, giving action scenes a degree of uncertainly when you can be genuinely unsure who might make it out alive. The frequent dogfighting sequences themselves are imaginative, exciting and consistently inventive, and during lulls the world is slowly revealed until it becomes apparent that every action the humans take is for survival, having learned through painful trial and error what they can get away with while escaping the notice of the aliens blockading the debris-strewn orbit.
Although there is the feeling that the straightforward nature of Skyward’s narrative doesn’t require quite such a lengthy book to tell it, it’s never anything less than an engaging read, and sets things up well for the series to continue.
SKYWARD / AUTHOR: BRANDON SANDERSON / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW