For the life of us we cannot understand how Brandon Sanderson does it, he manages to consistently churn out book after book without any reduction in size or quality of writing. So, after considerable speculation, we have come to the conclusion that a) either he does magic and has stolen a time turner from Hogwarts or b)has built his own time machine or, c) 3rd option, he is not human and lives in a spaceship which generates words. Is it possible for anyone to keep coming out, year after year with big fat books (no slim novellas for Sanderson), sometimes twice a year? He has at least 3 series running at the same time! Each one distinctly different with considerable amounts of world building which keeps the readers involved. Just keeping track of what is happening in each of the series to avoid confusion in the writing process would surely be a nightmare for mere mortals. But not Sanderson it would seem as each series has a very distinct story line and feel to it. With his new book, Skyward, Brandon Sanderson has diversified from fantasy to science fiction. And wonderfully so.
Skyward is YA with hints of Ender’s Game but a lot more fun. The protagonist Spensa Nightshade (call sign Spin) is everything you want a protagonist to be. She is spunky with a humongous chip on her shoulder, determined, intelligent, talented, with serious attitude and has stickability under adverse circumstances. She is also loyal, with a never say die attitude and has a fondness for Beowulf and other ancient stories as told by her grandmother. It makes her language rather more interesting when she is constantly talking about ‘smiting’ her enemies and hearing their ‘lamentations’ rising to the skies. If that isn’t engaging enough, Spensa comes across and befriends an abandoned ship with AI(M-Bot) with an attitude to match and a craving to research and categorise mushrooms! How much more random can it get? But it all works so well and the reader is captivated by the characterisations. Even one of us, who is not normally a science fiction reader, couldn’t put the book down.
The story of Skyward is set far in humanity’s future, without any specific dates being given. Spensa’s world, Detritus, is a planet where a human ship crash landed 80 years ago in the story, escaping from a galactic war between species. The planet is surrounded by a debris field of space junk, mostly old space stations and broken space ships. The humans have built their settlements underground to escape the Krells who attack from beyond the space debris every once in a while. The most coveted job on the planet is that of a starfighter pilot to defend against the Krell attacks. At seventeen those chosen by the academy commence their training and Spensa, who qualifies, has to struggle to stay in the academy.
A lot of writers write very grim fantasy or science fiction these days. Dark and violent has become almost unavoidable if one is looking for a gripping story. Skyward manages to steer clear of this while being humorous and gripping at the same time. It’s not a light read but retains the essence of one. Sanderson has proved himself to be one of the few male writers who write women very well. We can’t not read the next book in the series which is out later this year. But despite our trust in Sanderson, there is an element of apprehension about how he will top this one.