Nick James' debut novel Skyship Academy is a fast-paced, captivating thrill ride from start to finish. In the aftermath of the American-Chinese war a totalitarian government arose. Dissidents and cessessionists retreated to the great Skyships and a new world balance was created. After war loomed between those on the ground and those in the skyships, the Hernandez Treaty was signed, which drew a line in atmosphere no one was permitted to cross, separating the Skyship world above from the devastated earth and its corrupt Surface government. In this dystopian future the only viable fuel are fist-sized, emerald green pearls of energy which fall from the sky. The only power that can power a Skyship, the Pearls are a heavily sought-after commodity, and both governments are desperate to get their hands on as many as possible. The conflict has lain dormant for years, but both sides admit war is inevitable. Little does anyone know that the first spark that would become the Pearl Wars would be between two teenage boys, the Skyship slacker Jesse Fisher, and Cassius Stevenson, a Surface operative. What happens between them in the presence of a Pearl sets in motion a desperate chase spanning earth and sky as both governments search for the Pearls, and Jesse Fisher, said to be the key to everything.
As debut novels go, Skyship Academy is, by most standards, excellent. It flows together nicely and runs at a fast pace throughout like a good thriller ought to. Non-stop action, as clichéd as the phrase is, remains just about the only good description of the book. It is also the only novel, to my knowledge, to combine first-person present-tense for one character (I go over to the fridge and open it. She stares at me curiously as I do so) and third-person past-tense for the other (He went to the door and stepped through it). If it is not the first to try it, it was certainly the first to do so successfully for me; as one generally annoyed by present tense or second-person narratives, this one integrated them both fluidly and in a way that did not disrupt my investment in the story. No easy feat.
What is more, while James' prose generally reaches toward the minimalist end of the spectrum, as is the standard for most thriller-oriented fiction, it is very solid. Especially with regard to Jesse his prose most often transcends functionality, bursting as it is with genuine character voice. His description of Cassius' explosion on the train and its subsequent derailment in particular stands out to me as an act of narrative wisdom; where most authors would be tempted to wax eloquent with description of screaming people and great, blinding bursts of fire, James' takes the unexpected route and instead paints for us a picture that steps away from the characters, reporting the event as a newspaper might have done. “At 10:08 p. m., halfway between Portland and Spokane, car number fourteen exploded in a great ball of fire, lighting up the darkness for miles around. … The Unified Party would later blame the accident on a Peal power surge, though the Fringers would somehow convince themselves that they were responsible. Nobody would believe the truth, that a fifteen-year-old boy had taken down the entire Chute carrying more than 500 passengers without so much as a weapon. The country was in dire straits, fore sure, but something like that was just ridiculous,” (229-230). A great narrative choice, that keeps the story fresh.
This is not to say that the novel is free of problems. Occasionally a dialogue scene feels a bit forced, and once or twice the prose is too minimalistic or something happens too quickly. Cassius' infiltration of the Skyship Academy warranted greater expansion, I think. At other times, James' descriptions and atmosphere hit just the right note, as in the opening confrontation between Jesse and Cassius. While having a fifteen-year-old at a secret training academy aboard a Skyship does not stretch credulity, having a fifteen-year-old be a governmental operative does come close to stretching it. Otherwise, the book is sharply written, and a worthy debut novel. I hear that this is merely book one of a series, and so I await the others with great anticipation.
Review by AT Ross
2 positive reader review(s) for Skyship Academy
Arishia Star from North Americ
Omg I love dis book!
Mary from Seattle
I enjoyed this book, the storyline was unique and different. I enjoyed how the book's plot expannded toward the end and I defnitely want to see how the next book plays out. It was a good read.
9.1/10 from 3 reviews