Skyward is another hallmark of Sanderson's ability to spin the most incredible stories. He described the book as How to Train Your Dragon meets Top Gun and Enders Game. These references, however, would count for nothing if the execution was poor. Fortunately, and to solidify my unwavering faith in my favourite author, he shows that he is still at the top of his game.
So what do we get from Skyward? Fascinating worldbuilding - check. Empathetic characterisation - check. Excellent pacing and plotting - check. All these I have come to expect from Sanderson already, but the one thing that impressed me the most are the starship dogfight scenes. No magic system to showcase in action? No sweat! He relied on his (seemingly inexhaustible) imagination to create some unique dogfighting techniques while keeping flight science as real as possible with the help and advice of real-life fighter pilots. Similar to his magic systems, the capability of the pilots and their starfighters is constrained within a set of boundaries or rules as dictated by available technology; some of which are made-up to make it more exciting. The flight school arc is engaging and well-written with loads of flight action scenes, and they are so vivid and thrilling that I was practically glued to the pages.
If it is even possible, Sanderson is getting better at his worldbuilding skills, and I'm not just talking about how fascinating this most aptly named planet of Detritus is. It is that self-described Grand Skill of incorporating worldbuilding naturally through the perspective of the characters. Aside from avoiding info-dumping, this also lends an air of mystery to the history of the planet, its inhabitants and their lifelong war, but at the same time is not too obscure as to frustrate the reader.
The story is written mainly in the first-person POV of Spensa - an angry young lady with a lot to prove and hence had quite an attitude problem and a propensity to act like an idiot sometimes. Her growth in character was simply quite superb. While I was annoyed with some of her thoughts and actions at first, she was relatable, and as she fought so hard to remain in flight school at all costs to prove her detractors wrong, the life lessons she faced made her development feel completely natural and realistic. Even the supporting characters are excellent and ones that you will root for and develop an emotional investment. The level of empathy that Sanderson demonstrated in the way he wrote his characters truly astounds me sometimes. My favourite character - who made me tear up and then laugh till I almost cried again - is one that is not even human or biologically alive, but has such a personality as to appear quite sentient.
As with all of Sanderson's stories, there are always important themes imbued into the character's journey. Living in the shadow of her father, Spensa went all out to prove that she is not a coward. As she progressed through flight school, however, her conviction of what real bravery is was sorely tested. Her path to be a pilot and a grown-up was one of harsh realities and self-realisation.
"It has always seemed to me that a coward is a person who cares more about what people say than about what is right. Bravery isn't about what people call you, Spensa. It's about who you know yourself to be."
There is also one unifying theme evident in Sanderson's books, and that is one of hope. Not hope in the metaphysical sense or some god-like intervention, but hope that arises from the good in people. I live for stories like these, especially during these dark and nonsensical times.
"People need stories, child. They bring us hope, and that hope is real. If that's the case, what does it matter whether people in them actually lived?"
No, it does not matter to me if Kaladin or Dalinar, Vin or Kelsier, (to name a few) are fictional. Their stories illuminate what it means to hope, to live and be human. And I will want to ‘live' those stories again and again. Now, I am adding Spensa and her awesome, hilarious starship into that list.