by Sarah Pennington
Spensa Chaser may be the daughter of a coward, but she’ll do anything to prove she isn’t one herself. Fighting the shame of her father’s failures in the Battle of Alta and the resulting stigma against her family, Spensa earns herself a spot in the Defiant Defense Force flight school. There, she trains to become a pilot so she can redeem herself and her family and maybe, just maybe, prove her father wasn’t a coward after all. But when the truth proves far different than she imagined, she has to contend with more than attacking aliens, mysterious sentient starfighters, animosity from her fellow flight school cadets and the rigors of training. She’ll have to reevaluate all she ever knew about herself and what it truly means to be courageous or a coward.
Skyward is the latest young adult novel by award-winning Brandon Sanderson. It is also his first full-length foray into straight science fiction, as he is best known for epic fantasy series such as “Mistborn” and “The Stormlight Archive,” and his work on the last four books in Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series. So, it’s no wonder that, in writing “Skyward”, he essentially takes a classic fantasy trope—a boy and his dragon—and applies it to science fiction. But this time, it’s a girl and her starfighter.
(If you’re unfamiliar with the boy and his dragon trope: do you remember the plot of the first “How to Train Your Dragon” movie? That’s the trope. If you haven’t seen the movie: boy finds dragon. Boy befriends dragon and keeps it secret from society. Boy and dragon save society. The end.)
In and of itself, “Skyward” is an exciting, enjoyable young adult science fiction novel. Spensais loyal, smart, and stubborn, and her single-minded determination to fly, fight aliens, and clear her father’s name is admirable . . . though occasionally one does wonder if she thinks about anything besides those things. The other characters are interesting and appropriately likeable or dislikable depending on their roles. A few of them tread dangerously close to cliché territory, but not so close that it’s unforgiveable. Spensa’s relationship with other females’ stories and her interactions with M-Bot, the sentient spaceship that she finds and restores over the course of the book, are some of the best parts of the novel as a whole.
The plot and theme are solid, though not spectacular. Much of the conflict in the book centers, directly or indirectly, on the question of what bravery looks like. Spensa’s society has built itself around the idea of defiance, of never backing down, never retreating and never giving up. But this emphasis on defiance often turns to a tendency towards suicidal foolhardiness, which Spensa and all the characters must wrestle with at various points.
Unfortunately, devoted Sanderson readers may find that “Skyward” falls flat compared to his other books. Sanderson is known for colorful, brilliantly broken characters, unique and detailed worldbuilding, and heart-stopping plot twists. Even when he uses common tropes or clichés, he does so in a way that makes you see them in a whole new way. “Skyward,” on the other hand, borders on the expected and occasionally dabbles in the cliché. From a younger, less experienced author, it would be acceptable—but not from a fiction giant like Sanderson.
However, if “Skyward” isn’t up to Sanderson’s normal standards, it’s still an exciting and enjoyable read that will appeal to fans of both sci-fi and fantasy. One might even say that if “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Ender’s Game” were combined into one book, the result would be “Skyward.”
Sarah Pennington is a junior professional writing and information design major and an arts and entertainment reporter for Cedars. She loves chai tea and dragons and is perpetually either reading or writing a book.