A Full-Spoiler Discussion of Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward

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Skyward is officially available as of November 6th, which means that it’s now on shelves everywhere, even as as Brandon Sanderson flies around the country on tour. This also means that everyone can finally meet Spensa, the girl who has dreamed her whole life of being a pilot, just like her father. More than anything, she wants to prove herself brave and strong, and do her part to defend what’s left of the human race. When she was young, however, her father mysteriously deserted his team; his desertion cast a shadow over Spensa and left her chances of attending flight school uncertain.

Checking in again from Beta Flight to give a full mission briefing spoiler review are Darci Cole, callsign: Blue, and Deana Whitney, callsign: Braid. If you are not ready for spoilers yet, you can check out our non-spoiler review.

Eagerly anticipated by Sanderson fans, this story is a jet-fueled start to his newest YA series—join us as we launch Skyward!

As always, Sanderson’s writing style impresses with descriptions to rival the settings of any blockbuster action film. From epic starship battles to quiet underground cave systems, the world of Detritus is vivid and visceral. Between the characters, humor, technology, and story, there’s plenty to love, here—and even a little we’re meant to hate.

In working on the ideas that eventually became this novel, Sanderson was inspired to combine the concept of “a boy and his dragon” fantasy together with a flight school saga, of the kind we see in Top Gun and Ender’s Game. Thus, Skyward is, at its heart, a “girl and her starship” story. Spensa discovers her starship M-Bot by accident, hidden in a cave, safe from the dangerous debris that rains down on Detritus. She may call him “Massacre-Bot”, but we know he’s really “Mushroom-Bot” at his core. Their developing relationship is a real highlight of the book. And in tandem with M-Bot, let’s give a shout out to their pet, Doomslug!  We are already developing Theories around the whistling slug; must learn more about Doomslug the Destroyer soon…

This world is not in the Cosmere. Sanderson has consistently kept Earth, its history, and any story related to it out of the Cosmere. (Sorry, Alcatraz and Rithmatist fans.) During his recent AMAs, Sanderson has opened up more about the short story that Skyward is linked with. The two worlds share technology, of which not much is known yet. A big salute to readers who pegged which story Skyward is tied to without help. (The link takes you directly to the story, if you’ve not read it yet.)

Now, let’s dig into the discussion!

Relationships

Braid: Early on, I was struck by Spensa’s seeming self-confidence in the face of the bullying she experiences; I felt that only a person who is loved at home could endure these challenges with her bravado. The strong relationships we’re shown with her living relatives made me happy. I want to hear more of Gran-Gran’s stories.

Blue: Gran-Gran is wonderful, and I really hope we hear more from her, too. For me, Spensa’s dramatic threats and over-the-top anger made her feel vulnerable. No one puts on that kind of show unless they’re trying to hide some pain, and that immediately resonated with me. She’s got fire in her, we can see that from the start. But it’s also very apparent that there’s some hidden fear beneath the appearance of confidence. I love that about her. Because the journey she goes on to gradually let that wall down and actually let people care about her? It’s my favorite part of the story.

Braid: Her fear of being seen as a coward made me hurt for her. The whole team addressed their personal fears at some point—it cut across all differences, which helped them bond as a group. I enjoy reading how teams form into units, like we see in Skyward.

Blue: Yes! Those friendships became so important. We talked in the non-spoiler review about how Sanderson finally gave our girl some female friends to hang out with, and I’m so glad he did. I loved Kimmalyn (Quirk), Hurl, FM, and Morningtide. Each of them teaches Spensa something, and I’d like to think they learned from her too.

Braid: I agree. Quirk is my new favorite supporting character in all of Sanderson’s writing. It might be the Southern girl mannerisms I see in both her and myself. Each member of Skyward Flight is different and has something that distinguishes them from the crowd.

Blue: By far my favorite character—and, by extension, relationship—was M-Bot. He’s a computer, so his motivation and goals are perfectly clear from the start, yet even he goes through a journey of change. Plus, he’s hilarious.

Braid: Right? I’m not sure I’ve seen such a funny spaceship in years. Their growing relationship was so full of highs and heartaching lows—they both needed hugs during the lows.

The Outcast/Spensa’s Journey

Blue: Spensa begins this story having spent her young life angrily defying those who call her coward, overcompensating for her fears, and shouting death threats at rats in the silence of her caverns. It felt like a genuine privilege to watch her shift from a determined but naive girl with walls around her heart into a young woman set on saving those she’s come to care about.

Braid: She does grow. In a very zig-zag pathway. She makes a few choices that have a “Hey, hold my drink and watch this!” feel to them, which obviously don’t turn out so well. Not that she’s alone in making less-than-logical choices. In the face of all the obstacles placed in her path, a few wince-worthy decisions are not a surprise.

Blue: We talked before about how Spensa is an outsider, but I would add that each of these characters is an outsider in their own way.

Braid: Among her team? Yes, from Cobb to his students, we meet a group of odd ducks. Cobb is a study in contrast to the cultural thinking. He’s one of the privileged First Citizens. Yet, because he teaches the kids light-lancing over dog-fighting, and teaches them to eject, he’s disrespected. It’s frustrating.

Worldbuilding

Braid: Sanderson slipped in some subtle worldbuilding by making all the Skyward Flight crew from different cavern groups. I appreciated the glimpses into the tensions between the common and deep cavern dwellers. Still, there’s plenty of information to learn in the future books.

Blue: Absolutely. I loved the way he made sure that we learned a little bit about many different areas of the world. As in The Stormlight Archive, he’s built a world rich with differences, while still having the general human race and DDF as a central focal point for all of them, no matter where they live. The entire plot hinges on the tradition of bravery being good and cowardice being bad. Which, while different from our culture (mine, at least) was not too far a stretch for me to believe.

Braid: I can see where a military culture could develop the fear of the coward label. What disheartened me is how the word “coward” had morphed in meaning.

Blue: That was definitely one thing I had trouble wrapping my brain around, but in the end it worked for the story. The way pilots’ lives were thrown away as though they were valued no higher than the ships they flew, the way bravery and cowardice came to mean almost the exact opposite of what they mean to us… it was definitely frustrating to read.

Braid: I’m not sure about opposite meaning, but all nuance is lost when every self-doubt is seen as “being a coward.” It leads to a culture with kamikaze aspects—one I see as a pointless sacrifice, since often they aren’t dying to take out the enemy, just to save their ships. The way Ironsides runs the training and military was my biggest frustration with the story, which felt deliberate on Sanderson’s part. We learned much about the war, the economy, and the politics through her eyes and choices. Many of her policies are what I want to see die in flames, as I hinted at in the non-spoiler review.

First, her rules about Spensa not using the dorm were just petty. Second, we both agree sending student pilots up, on their first day of class, is beyond illogical. We just saw them crash in the simulator! Who gives untrained students access to the hard-to-replace technology people are dying to protect? Third, her fear of “the defect” in Spensa, something that multiple people might have, seems exaggerated to me. I hate Ironsides, but I see why she’s in the story.

Blue: Oh absolutely. Spensa needed someone to hold her back plot-wise, and based on the culture we’ve been introduced to, here (annoying though it might be), Ironside’s actions do make sense. I still don’t like her, but I can’t fault her logic. Even Cobb, at realizing Spensa is following her father’s path, becomes afraid and rather glad that she isn’t flying anymore (at that point at least). It’s just lucky Spensa finds a way to protect herself from the Krell in a way that her father couldn’t.

Braid: You know, we’ve not touched on the Krell. But I think they are better left as a RAFO. Even in a spoiler review a few things need to be discovered by the readers on their own. Enjoy the wild ride in part five!

Onto a happier topic to close…

Blue: Yes! As a lover of romance, I had my fingers crossed that we would see some in this book, but once we began reading it becomes obvious early on that we won’t—not yet, anyway. These kids have too much to worry about, Spensa in particular. Between having to walk to her cave every night, hunt for her own food, and stealing gathering parts for M-bot, she doesn’t have time to be falling in love. But personally, I see the seed of a romance beginning to sprout by the end of this book, so who knows what we’ll see in the sequels?

Braid: The seeds are there in Jorgen for sure. I appreciate that all the potential romances are being given time to develop. As you said, the team is busy learning and fighting a war. It was also refreshing to me that Rig and Spensa are siblings of the heart. I loved seeing their friendship’s role in how the story play out. My fingers are crossed for his romantic and plot-relevant future.

Blue: Amen. Above all else, Rig is a precious cinnamon roll and deserves happiness.

Signing out from Beta Flight. We hope you have enjoyed your Mission Briefing. We couldn’t cover all the awesome, so let us know about your favorite parts of Skyward in the comments!

Skyward is available from Delacorte Press.

Darci Cole—Callsign: Blue—is an aspiring author of fantasy, audiobook narrator, wandmaker, and Sanderson Beta Reader. After the hype of Skyward’s release, her next big exciting event will be The Crimes of Grindelwald midnight showing. M-Bot is still her patronus.

Deana Whitney—Callsign: Braid—is a Sanderson Beta reader, historian, and baker. She encourages anyone confused by Spin’s battle cries to read the Poetic Edda. She refuses to create any rat and algae wrap recipes, but does have a few ideas for mushrooms. Long live Doomslug!

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