Skyward Flight by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson (book review).

‘Skyward Flight’ is the omnibus edition of three ‘Skyward’ novellas: ‘Sunreach’, ‘ReDawn’ and ‘Evershore’, all of which are related to Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Skyward Trilogy’. I didn’t realise this before starting the book but, although these novellas refer back to events in the first trilogy, I was able to follow the story without any problem. There was enough information without any infodumping to enable me to grasp the setting and background without needing to know exactly what had happened.

There’s obviously other things going on in the background and some seemingly significant things are referred to, but nothing that causes confusion whilst reading this volume. The books are marketed as YA and that is mostly evidenced by the age of the protagonists and their outlooks on life, but on the whole this was a fun and inventive read.

‘Sunreach’ takes place against the backdrop of a human colony known as Detritus, a world that has previously been devastated in some kind of alien attack, leaving thousands of pieces of debris in orbit along with vast amounts of advanced technology only partially understood by the humans who now live there. Skyward Flight is the callsign of a squadron of fighters who patrol the skies and defend against the invading Superiority.

There’s a whole fascinating background to the story, of the previous inhabitants of the planet, of the Superiority who jealously guard the secrets of hyperdrives and of other potential allies out amongst the races of the Galaxy. Underlying the society are rare individuals with various psychic powers such as teleporting or hyperjumping, in this case, known as cytonics. It makes for an intriguing set up.

FM is one of the young pilots who is determined to do her duty to defend the planet, while negotiating her relationships with her fellow pilots and others. It’s a fast-paced book for the most part, not dwelling on angsty introspection but revelling in inventive fun. There are floating platforms, unknown technologies, slugs with special powers and aliens in comas. FM and her companions tackle their mission to make some of the advanced technology usable and make contact with potential allies, nicely setting up several possible ways for the second book to go.

The second novella, ‘ReDawn’, focuses on Alanik, the alien who was in a coma for much of the first book. Back on her home planet of ReDawn, things are less dire in that they are not under constant attack from the Superiority. Rival political factions are attempting to come to a compromise with their oppressors, an eventuality that Alanik and her allies are determined to avoid. Her mission is to recruit the humans of Detritus to ally with them.

It’s interesting to see the people from the first book seen through the eyes of an alien and to understand more about the Superiority and their methods of coercion and conquest. ReDawn itself is one of the most fascinating planetary societies I have come across, reminiscent of something Jack Vance would have come up with. The planet is a gas giant and the inhabitants live on gigantic trees that float through the upper atmosphere. It makes for some wonderful imagery. There’s rather more introspection and relationship dilemmas in this second book, but it develops the story nicely.

Volume three, ‘Evershore’, focuses on Jorgen, who is the flight leader for Skyward Flight. Following the devastating events of the second volume, Jorgen tries to continue his mission to recruit alien allies and understand how the advanced tech of Detritus can help them. It continues in the same non-stop vein as the previous stories, moving from disaster to misunderstanding to dogfights, invasions and heroics.

I suspect that readers of the original ‘Skyward Trilogy’ would find this volume much more engaging than perhaps I did. I found it difficult to stay immersed in the narrative when Jorgen and his flight were pretty much left with the responsibility of saving multiple civilisations while any adults appeared to have no ability or opportunity to help. The classic set-up for a YA adventure I guess. Still, the inventive setting, the fascinating technology and the mysteries surrounding their cytonic abilities made for an overall satisfying trilogy of novellas.

Gareth Jones

July 2022

(pub: Gollancz, 2022. 617 page hardback. Price: £22.00 (UK only). ISBN: 978-1-399-60213-6)

check out website: www.gollancz.co.uk 

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