Skyward: Claim the Stars by Brandon Sanderson

Rating 8.8/10
"Ender's Game" meets "Flight of the Navigator" in an exciting start to a new sci-fi series

When you’re young, it’s easy to see things in black and white. Concepts are valued as absolutes.  Ice cream is good. Crime is bad. Fight for what’s right, and never run away. But with age comes wisdom and nuance, and suddenly your perceptions aren’t as easily defined. Coming to terms with these realizations can be challenging, especially without the support of family or friends. This is one of the more interesting themes explored by Brandon Sanderson’s new sci-fi epic Skyward: Claim the Stars, book one of the Skyward series. Self-described as “Top Gun” meets “How to Train Your Dragon,” it also shows its influences from Ender’s Game as well as “Flight of the Navigator.” In other words, it’s an exciting mix of mystery, adventure, and discovery with an ending that promises more thrilling material in the books ahead.

Spensa, a.k.a. “call sign: Spin” is the daughter of a traitor. This is what everyone has called her since she was a little girl. But Spin doesn’t believe a word of it and has a chip on her shoulder about proving everyone wrong. Years ago, her planet’s above-ground base was attacked by the faceless, mysterious Krell. Her father, a respected pilot, was said to have ran away when the fighting became too intense. His own flight team was forced to shoot him down to send a message to the other pilots: stay and fight, or all will be lost. Spin is the only one who has stuck by her dead father’s side over the years, fighting or threatening anyone who badmouths her family name. Branded as an outcast, the only future Spin sees for herself is to follow in her father’s footsteps, pass the flight school entrance exam, and become the best pilot in the fleet. Yet, old grudges die hard, and there are those who want to make sure that Spin goes nowhere near a ship. But Spin discovers something that could change the tides of war and either save or doom the last survivors on this arid planet...

In prototypical fashion, Sanderson’s world-building is one of the most interesting aspects to the story. He ekes out information at a steady rate as to not overwhelm the reader with massive info dumps and maintains an air of mystery as to how the circumstances of Spin’s people came to be. Skyward has all the hallmarks of a Sanderson story: mysterious prologue, likeable protagonists, curious past civilizations, new technologies, and the looming threat of a warring race. I was often reminded of Mistborn’s ‘metal burning’ magic when Skyward’s new tech abilities were showcased. Sanderson has created a system of rules for a ship’s dogfighting technology, then immediately dives into all the various strategies of how to best employ it, pushing its capabilities ever further and testing the boundaries of how far this tech can function. It’s always a pleasure spending time inside Brandon’s mind as he creates a new playground of rules and takes his characters for a ride through unchartered territories.

In addition to some of the themes discussed above, this story also explores the nature of identity, both human and artificial. Identity can be defined by how some human characters act and think, but this also applies to an AI struggling to determine whether it can create new ideas on its own. Following these character arcs helped ground the story between tense scenes of battle training and hidden agendas, and I appreciated how the story sometimes slowed down to concentrate on the consequences of our characters’ decisions. And these consequences are often dire: the violence is hardly graphic, but its repercussions are felt heavily throughout the story.

Skyward: Claim the Stars is an easy book to recommend. It contains all the main characteristics of a Sanderson novel from a writer at the top of his game. Some might consider this book YA, though I was just as engrossed as I would have been with any other of his novels. Above all, this novel is a ton of fun, and it sets up the story for some excellent ideas to explore in the next volume. Thankfully, we won’t have to wait long, as Brandon has shared that the sequel was just submitted to the publisher. I’ve grown quite fond of the characters in this story and am curious to unravel its mysteries in the series ahead.

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