This bind up of three novellas in the Skyward series is an interesting addition to the story, but a frustrating one, because it seems essential to the series plot arc, while being marketed as side stories.
Book: Skyward Flight by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Gollancz. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Violence and death, including parental and friend death.
In Sunreach, after a planet-destroying Delver suddenly appears in the sky of Detritus and vanishes just as suddenly, FM knows that the last free human society got lucky. Her Skyward Flight companion Spensa figured out how to draw this Delver away, but it won’t be so easy next time. Humanity has to be prepared . . . and when FM’s flight leader Jorgen finds a large group of Taynix – the space slugs then enable hyperdrives – they may have found their chance, if FM, Jorgen, the engineer Rig and the mysterious alien Alanik, can unlock the secrets in time . . . .
In ReDawn, Alanik has recovered from the shock of answering a distress call and finding a planet of humans making a stand against the Superiority, only to be dismayed to discover they’re considering a peace overture from their enemy. Worse, when she returns to her home planet of ReDawn, she find her own people falling into exactly the same trap. With her mentor captured, she turns to her new friends to help: can Alanik, FM, Jorgen and Rig coax an ancient technology into life in time to save both their planets from disaster?
And in Evershore, the government of Detritus is still in disarray following Superiority treachery, and no word has come from Spensa, on her mission deep in the Nowhere, leaving Alanik, Jorgen, FM and Rig to pick up the pieces. So when the Kitsen send word from the planet Evershore, saying they have some humans and wish to return them, they have to decie if the strange message can be trusted . . . all while Jorgen struggles to master his new cytonic powers which threaten to spin out of control . . .
A gripping collection of novellas, told from the perspectives of three different characters, these superb adventures are essential Skyward reading!
The first novella, Sunreach, is an action-packed view of what Spensa’s flight get up to without her during the events of Starsight and Cytonic – mostly learning about how cytonics and hyperjumping work, from the point of view of FM, or Freyja. It’s good fun, and feels a lot more like the vibe of the first book, with the team camaraderie and bickering front and centre with a couple of space flights thrown in for some adrenaline-pumping moments – this is exactly what I loved about the first book, and what I felt was missing from Cytonic (which felt rather drawn out and separate from the main storyline). I really wish Cytonic had included this plot as an alternate POV sprinkled throughout the story, so it all felt a little more cohesive! I didn’t love the very bare-bones romance, as it felt a bit too simple, but I’m not sure anyone’s reading a Sanderson book for really romantic relationships… However, if you’re a fan of the space slugs, this is definitely a good read for you! Janci Patterson does a good job of mimicking the style, so it feels like a Skyward book.
The second novella, ReDawn, continues that same plot with the rest of Skyward Flight, but switches to the viewpoint of Alanik, the alien whose place Spensa stole. It’s a fairly interesting raising of the stakes, but I got a little bit tired of the humour, which is largely based around Alanik not understanding human culture. Fun for a bit, but some scenes were too drawn out and felt unnecessarily expository, like the scene where all the humans discuss who they’re dating to explain human relationships; it felt more like ‘bringing the reader back up to speed’ than a natural conversation. I had this problem in Starsight, too, that cultural differences weren’t treated in a very nuanced way, but that each species was a cultural monolith that seemed designed to make pithy meta points about how human society works. I appreciate this is a YA series, but it’s frustratingly simplistic in some ways.
The third and final novella in the collection is Evershore, and this one follows immediately on from the end of ReDawn, switching to Jorgen’s point of view. Some pretty universe-changing things happen here, so I won’t talk too much about the plot, but it is again an interesting place to take the story – and unfortunately, far more interesting than the main plot of Cytonic!
Actually, thinking about it – I really think these three novellas should have either been inserted into Cytonic, with Spensa’s Wild Adventure condensed into a much shorter section, or should have just straight up been released as the third book, with Spensa’s story released as a side novella about ‘What I Did On My Holiday in the Nowhere’ as it seems to have much less impact on the ultimate trajectory of the series. I really feel like this series is so weirdly put together, and if you’re going to tell a story that involves things happening to multiple people in multiple places, it would benefit the books a lot not to be stuck in one viewpoint all the time. It worries me how the rest of the books are going to pan out – will we be stuck with Spensa doing her own thing and have to have more novellas to flesh every other character getting on with the plot? If so, that feels rather misleading. You shouldn’t have to buy extra books to get the ‘whole’ story.
So I’m in a weird position with this – I enjoyed the stories on their own merit, but I’m left increasingly frustrated by the series and by Brandon Sanderson as an author. With this series projected to take ten main books, it feels completely unreasonable to me for these side novellas to be so crucial to the plot – that’s a lot of pages, a lot of time commitment, and a lot of money to expect people to buy add-ons as well. The fact that Sanderson is also doing this with the Stormlight Archive books makes me very leery of recommending either series; I simply no longer trust him to actually finish a story within a reasonable space. Part of writing is knowing what to leave out, as well as what to put in, and I think needing an additional 600 pages of story on top of the main series shows that he’s not willing to edit either plot or actual words as much as he needs to. Honestly, it gets boring to need to hold this many pages worth of info to see a story through – there’s a significant something to be said for pulling a story off within a satisfying structure! I’m in two minds about continuing with the series (I’ve already given up on the Stormlight Archive) as I don’t know how much more time is going to be asked of me.
After that little rant, I feel weird rating this. It’s a four cat read if taken as a purely individual unit – but it isn’t an individual unit. So… who knows!