by Brandon Sanderson,
Narrated by Sophie Aldred
Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race is 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.
Skyward is book 1 of a new sci-fi series by Brandon Sanderson. I’ve read a fair bit of Sandersons work over the years after he took over and finished The Wheel Of Time series after Robert Jordans death. He did an amazing job finishing another authors series and I’ve enjoyed his other works greatly, but here’s the thing, they’ve all been fantasy and I was really curious to see how he would approach a sci-fi world. The first big change is no magic, kind of. The main character Spencer (spin) does have something akin to a talent that no one else in the story has passed through her family. It’s not magic per se and it’s not really explored much in this first book but it is there in the background to no doubt be explored in later books. Anyway, besides well thought out and complicated magic systems Sanderson is well known for world building and this book is no exception, it’s a well described believable world. You can picture it and the people as vividly as any of his fantasy novels.
I’m never sure how much detail to go into in these reviews but I’ll try and keep spoiler free!
The book is set in a distant future on a planet called Detritus, a planet where humans were stranded around 150 years ago after fleeing there and crash landing. The survivors descendants live underground in small clans and the sky is filled with so much space junk and old technology that to see the stars is a rare occurrence. Humans have been pushed to the brink by the Krell but are starting to threaten a genuine fight back when they find a manufactory capable of building ships to fight the Krell. The Krell are aliens the humans know very little about, having only ever recovered empty armour from their ships. All they really know is they live above the debris field surrounding the planet, they attack whenever humans amass in to large numbers which has kept the humans and in military engagements they never field more than 100 ships.
You follow Spensa, a young woman with a chip on her shoulder and a point to prove. Branded the daughter of a coward she is an angry young woman who dreams of being a pilot and proving she is no coward and people were wrong about her father. To begin with I found her pretty annoying but by the end of the story she has grown as a character a fair amount and really grew on me in turn. Why is she annoying? Well a lot of it is down to the way she talks! Raised on stories of heroes past (Beowulf being a favourite) by her grandmother and there’s lots of talk of bathing in the blood of her enemies ect . I get she starts off as a kid, but she’s still talking like that at 16 around the time she is about to try and enrol to try and become a pilot and you’d think she’d be past it by now. Still the book acknowledges she is self admittedly a little weird and she even pokes a bit of fun at herself towards the end of the book when hearing what she sounds like from another character.
The supporting characters are well done. They are at times very funny with some touching moment as well. There are several occasions where they show a depth beyond what I was expecting . They have layers and are believable, you can understand why they make the decisions they do or have made in the past and that does play a large part of the story.
The narration by Sophie Aldred is really very good. She handled humour and emotional scenes equally well, had excellent characterisation for everyone she voiced and was hard to fault. I don’t know if it was her decision to give a certain character a Scottish accent but it added lots of humour even if it might have been slightly dodgy, I’ll let the Scots decide how close she got!
Sci-fi seems to be very male narration heavy and it takes me a chapter or two to get used to the tone shift, but it would be nice to see more female narration in the genre, especially when the stories protagonist is female but that’s a different discussion. I can recommend the Children of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky which is excellently narrated by Mel Hudson…..avoid if you aren’t a fan of spiders though!
Would I recommend this book? Yeah, I enjoyed it although it’s not setting the world on fire just yet. I’m interested to see where it goes, the focus has been on just this one place in the first book but it ends with the possibility of opening up much more. There are shadowy forces in the background, barely glimpsed in this book that I’m sure will play more of a role in later books as we learn more about Spensa’s inherent ability and humans threaten to expand past the nomadic existence forced upon them.
I still prefer Sandersons fantasy works. The Mistborn series and Stormlight archive series are both great fantasy reads (I’ll get round to reviewing eventually) and Stormlight book 4 is released later this month so that is a treat! I have read many worse sci-fi novels though and Sandersons world and character building skills are shining through in this book, i was just hoping for a little more from the story, a bit more scope, but like I said I’m still interested to see where it goes. If you are a Brandon Sanderson fan give this a try for something a bit different, if you aren’t then read his fantasy stuff first, it’s awesome and I’m sure you will become a fan.