Mechanicum (Horus Heresy # 09) by Graham McNeill – Book Review

This review was originally posted over at booknest.eu.

Graham McNeill seems to me the most consistent of all the Black Library authors working on the Horus Heresy series. I put aside Dan Abnett here, whose abilities as a writer I hold in high esteem over the excellent Eisenhorn trilogy. This is the third Heresy novel I’ve read written by McNeill, and it’s the third one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

 Here are a few commonalities between all McNeill’s Heresy novels so far:

  • They move the overall plot of the Heresy along. False Gods showed Horus’ corruption; Fulgrim was the most WarHammer 40k book I’ve ever read, with all the gleeful corruption of Chaos and ultraviolence and the purple prose which was most certainly written to fit the ridiculousness that is the Emperor’s Children legion and to play on this whole meta aspect  – and you can take that to the bank, Mr Rob Hayes’ hat! (Love you, Rob)
  • They’ve got characters who do not bore the life out of me. Looking at you, Battle for the Abyss.
  • The narration is always to die for. I needed a third point, okay? These bulletpoints must always go in threes at the least, doncha know?!

These all certainly earn McNeill some credit*. But even if this was the first book of his I’d read in the Heresy series, I’d still have enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m conscious of a number of issues which don’t make sense to me either because I’m not steeped deep enough into the lore of this mega-event, or because McNeill and co. didn’t quite think things through when they were moving all the different plot pieces in planning the greater span of the Horus Heresy.  

In terms of characters, there were a few memorable ones. First among them is the Forge Mistress Koriel Zeth, who is a proud bearer of the torch of scientific progress passed down since the Enlightenment, prob’ly, a torch that is doomed to be swallowed by the torrential sea of Chaos during the Heresy. I really liked Zeth for her irreverence towards the nonsense of the Machine God and her ambition to unlock the secrets of the universe, for her willingness to sacrifice everything to stand against zealotry and all the dark horrors seeping into Mars under the direction of Kelbor-Hal, Fabricator General of Mars.

As likable as her but for many different reasons is Dalia Cythera, a girl from Earth who has an intuitive understanding of the workings of technology. Saved from a cruel death sentence for fiddling with technology (making it better) by Zeth, Dalia finds herself in the middle of Mars’s deadliest conflict yet.  Around her is a nice cast of supporting characters, most of them hardly what you’d call deep, since there’s plenty more going on than just Dalia’s storyline. They do their jobs quite well, though, as Dalia ends up fulfilling a dangerous, important role that sadly seems to never be referenced again in any other Warhammer 30-40k book. Aw, shucks.

On the other side of things, we’ve got…MECHS. Pardon, Titan Legions waging war on one another. It’s entertaining and entirely forgettable. Seriously, I finished this one about two months ago and I can’t even recall the name of our PoV character. I liked him! I can remember that much; it’s just that his storyline is your average tale of glory, heroism and sacrifice that’s to be expected of the setting.

My biggest issue with this here book is – all of this is happening on Mars, Earth’s literal back porch  and not until the end of the book does it seem as if anyone is willing to check out what’s going on with the neighbours. And when the big wigs over at Earth do notice something is wrong, they send a punitive force that roughly equates to a five-year-old with a stick coming into the Martian neighbour’s yard to put an end to a drunken brawl. Blimey, this Horus Heresy really is a mess sometimes.

Other than that, The Mechanicum was really quite solid. I was entertained throughout, which is why I’m happy to give it a 3.5/5, which I will helpfully bump up to 4 stars on Goodreads – I’m such a nice guy, aren’t I? It’s a good read, if you can ignore the glaring elephant in the room – our very own planet, Earth.

You might enjoy this one if you like:

  • the Adeptus Mechanicus, aka those weird robot fellas who knock on your door and always try to sell you on “Our Lord and Saviour, the Machine God”;
  • Mechs. Just…mechs;
  • Some real cool characters, actually;
  • and last but certainly not least, loads and loads of heresy;
  • Oh, and more! Prob’ly.

 HEEEEEEEREEEEEEESYYYY

*What’s with me and finance today? I still can’t live down The Dragon’s Bankerby Scott Warren. Now there’s a fun fantasy if you need one!  Oh, also, if you want to read my thoughts on some of the other Horus Heresy books, you can check my blog out, The Grimoire Reliquary. They’re not reviews, per se but I recall complaining loudly about some of the novels.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – Book Review

What’s there to say about this one that hasn’t been said before?

Vonnegut is among the quintessential American authors, someone who, despite writing science fiction, transcended the stigmata of SF without difficulty, entered popular American consciousness and hasn’t left it since. Its message strongly abhors the very notion of war, decries the brutalities of it and relates the horrors of the Second World War in bloodcurdling detail. It’s not an easy book to read or listen to, not even with James Franco’s voice relating the events Billy Pilgrim goes through. Billy Pilgrim, unstuck through time, going back to World War 2 and forth into the sweet unknown; Billy Pilgrim, an optometrist. Billy Pilgrim, prisoner-of-war in Dresden, shoved forth into Slaughterhouse-Five with the rest of them, along with one Kurt Vonneghut, though he himself never makes use of the name.

“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”

Billy Pilgrim, who is kidnapped to Tralfamadore and stuffed into their zoo along with a woman he comes to love. Billy Pilgrim, who knows the hour and the method of his own death, and knows it is predestined, and does not fool himself into believing in the folly of free will*.

So it goes.

What’s between the covers of Slaughterhouse-Five is real. It’s anger and it’s fury and maybe it’s helplessness, too, at the perpetual cycle that churns out war and its injustices. Monstrous, terrible as they are. Vonnegut shows it how it is; no glory can be found amidst the mud and ice – only the illusion of it in the eyes of the vainglorious prick Roland Weary, whose pettiness and cruelty plant a seed the poisonous fruit of which eventually results in the death of a good man.

It is also a critique of America, in two of the most poignant paragraphs I have read in recent memory:

“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”

These words were true when Vonnegut wrote them, and they resonate so much stronger today. I fear they will resonate stronger yet tomorrow, and tomorrow, and the one after it, as well.

Strange, perhaps, that I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed the Sirens of Titan. But I appreciate its merits; appreciate, even, that it has more merits than Sirens does. I’ll always remember 2019 for Vonnegut, for this and Sirens and perhaps Breakfast of Champions, if I manage to get through it before the closing of the year.

—————————————————————————————————————–

* But these are not Vonnegut’s beliefs; just because his main character believes it, and the Tralfamadorians believe it, doesn’t make it so, my friends. The only reason I mention this is, Vonnegut seems to have gotten a lot of flack for it in the past.

Oh, and do I even need to tell you how great James Franco does as narrator? No. No, I don’t.

The Train Station, 4:30 a.m.

I wrote and sent this to one of my best friends early in the morning as I was waiting for a train to take me to the airport. I enjoy doing small pieces like these, reflections on reality through my point of view.

At four thirty in the morning, Malmö Central is nothing at all like what it is in the greyness of day. It’s a serene spot, empty of all life, devoid of the crowds that assail it in waves during the day, flittering back and forth. Not a single human in sight. Not even a bone!

That is, until the passengers of city bus number 4 dismount their creaking, mechanical mount and step inside. They shuffle inside like a crowd of mildly peckish zomboids. They devour the silence. The crunch of leather, the rhythmic pat, pat, pat of steps against the shiny floor tiles, the hushed groans of those who know each other in this abysmal hour. It continues, but only for a short while, only until you reach the escalators, where all comes to a halt, you and your suitcase in tow, both of you staring at the sliding door. There’s plenty to stare at – it’s made of glass, only a huge chunk of it is missing. Someone’s come up with an elegant solution to the problem — duct tape, in ludicrous quantities. As if someone tried to mumify the door after seeing Tutenstein a few times too many. It’s ludicrous, and it works, and that’s ludicrous too, and I love it.

Then you step past the door — it still works, it slides open for you, what magic is this?! — and you accept that the next time you see it, it will most likely be sporting a new sheen of glass. Everything interesting about it gone without so much as a screech of protest. You say your goodbyes, the thought that a picture might come in handy later never even having crossed your mind.

You hope the maintenance guy gets a cut for ruining it.

And then, at last, you see it, and all your dislike for your fellow man, striding the earth as early as you yourself do, dies away. That infernal desire machine, that glistening titan of industry. The train that will take you home*.

Charlie the Choo-Choo, illustrated for Stephen King’s…children’s book…? (Dark Tower fans will know!)

*in my case, the train that will take me to the airport that will allow me to board one plane that will fly me to another airport in which another plane, if I be lucky, will await. Thanks for being witness to my crimes against writing!

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami – Book Review

This novel constitutes my first experience with the non-fiction work of the great Haruki Murakami. It was a hell of a lot of fun – and now that I’ve read it, I feel I have a touch greater understanding of the man behind some of my favourite magical realism fiction.

This book will motivate you even if you’re not a runner, even if you have no interest whatsoever in taking part in a marathone or a triathlone or any sort of endurance-based competition at all. It’s a book about perseverance, about a man chasing after what he loves.

Murakami persevered first in running a bar; then, he began to write and once he found his legs, he’s never stopped since. Throughout, he’s kept running. Succeeding, failing – that matters…but not too much. What matters more is, he’s never given up, not even as age slowly crept up on him; as it does with us all.

I suspect writing this one was something of a cathartic experience – almost as cathartic as running itself has been for him. In his catharsis, I find inspiration – metric tons of it. In how he’s dealt with loneliness, for example, I find solace; rather, I find solace that he has never really minded it. Sometimes, I feel a certain amount of guilt for being okay with mine.

I love running, even though I’ve never done too much of it. A few months here and there, inevitably ruined by some cold or flu or virus; the cycle broken and my willpower smashed to smithereenes. But this book…it inspires me to go back to it, to make another effort.

“To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm.”

I also happily accept the following quote as a pat on the head, in my charmingly arrogant fashion:

“If you’re young and talented, it’s like you have wings.”

Don’t worry, this didn’t get to my head too much, not after I came across this piece:

“An unhealthy soul requires a healthy body.”

You’ve got to be realistic about these things.

I listened to this one on Audible. The narration was courtesy of Ray Porter, who is one of my all-time favourite narrators; I’m familiar with his work as gruff detective Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s classic noir novels. Brilliant job, my good Mr Porter, brilliant.

My score for What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is 4 out of 5 stars. Toodles!

STAR WARS JEDI: FALLEN ORDER REVIEW – Excellent, Buggy, Lacking Ambition

Jedi: Fallen Order has a lot going for it – an excellent story, an addictive combat system and plenty of Metroidvania elements in the planets we players explore as we take on the role of Cal Kestis. Unfortunately, Fallen Order is also plagued by bugs and the number of gameplay systems directly copied from other games make for a certain lack of ambition in terms of the innovation developer Respawn Entertainment implements.

In this video, I did my best to take a critical look at the story, dialogue, gameplay systems and the overall presentation of the game. I’m happy with how it turned out – if you are too, leave me a comment and please, please, please…share the video with your friends!

Revisiting the Classics: Hellblade – Senua's Sacrifice, a Descent into the Underworld

I don’t necessarily have the best opinion of content I’ve worked on in the past but I had a friend over this last Friday and I happened to show her the trailer of the recently announced Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 (it looks great, you can see it here) and she’d never heard of the first one. Rather than explain the first one to her, I remembered I’d done a video on it and played it for her.

Imagine my shock when I realised it was quite an in-depth look at Senua’s journey. Well-crafted arguments, solid examples, quality audio. Yes, I was annoyed by having left an instance of repetition in my narration but I’ll forgive my past self this one.

If you’re interested in Hell, Hades and the Underworld, this one will be a great watch. I used the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to contrast desire and lack of faith with the journey of self-discovery and reconcilliation that Senua goes through.

It’s one of my better video essays and I’d appreciate your support, likes, shares.

Crown of the Sundered Empire by J. C. Kang – Book Review

This review was originally posted over at booknest.eu.

I approach the review of this one with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I enjoyed much of the story (after a fashion), loved the characters and found several of the plot threads nothing short of riveting. On the other, dozens of typos pulled me out of the action very often, much to my annoyance.  Further, I admit to some confusion on account of the blurb of this novel only concentrating on a third, at most, of the story it tells. The much more significant conflict, which embroiders four out of the five point-of-view characters of Crown is described by the succinct sentence, “A coming war,” and perhaps by the following line “a broken land where conquerors dream of empires”.

J. C. Kang’s world is multifaceted. History and mythology are one and the same, with fragments of once-corporeal gods empowering the mortal might of broken and aspirant empires both. There’s enough here to be daunting to a new reader to the world of Tivara – at times, I felt lost, uncertain of which of the characters were being introduced for the first time and which of them had starring or supporting roles in Kang’s previous works.

I was entranced by Tomas’ story, the point of view which deals with the eponymous Crown of the Sundered Empire and with an invasion by the disgusting Bovyans, a race of large, militaristic males who procreate by forcing themselves on the women of those territories they subjugate through force. Tomas’ sharp wit is easy to grow fond of, and he goes through a dark hero’s journey, which sees him turn far more ruthless, at a very steep price. Only two instances come to mind as somewhat “off” in terms of his PoV sections, one of them when a soldier intent on not trusting the boy has a change of heart after stating very clearly he wouldn’t trust Tomas; the other involves a mid-wife in his village, of whom Tomas only ever thinks of as “the midwife.” This last one feels bizarrely archetypal and not at all like everyone in this tiny fishing and diving village has intimate knowledge of each other.

Our other characters, princes, princesses, bastards and a half-elf assassin, deal with the fallout of  Crown Prince Elrayn’s attempt to unite two broken kingdoms in order to further his own power. At its best, this part of the novel reminded me of the plots of some Shakesperean comedies, with men and women desperate to get out of arranged marriages, falling in love with exactly whom they shouldn’t and creating plenty of amusing conflict. At its worst, however, I just didn’t buy into the casual stupidity the Crown Prince exhibited in the midst of crisis – there’s incompetence, there’s short-sightedness and then there is whatever Elrayn suffers from. His early successes came across as no more than a stroke of luck, and his later failings appeared to me too artificial. Thankfully, he’s not one of the PoV characters – rather, the engine by which most of them come into the conflict.

I was familiar with the high-elf, Jie, from a short novella by the name of “Thorn of the Night Blossoms” and I enjoyed seeing her all grown-up and experienced but also struggling between duty and love. Her affair with Elrayn’s brother, Aryn, was a source of amusement and some well-appreciated tension, which ultimately didn’t come up to the sort of resolution I would’ve liked.

Alwrynn, royal bastard and brother to Elrayn and Aryn, whose overwhelming use of naval terms chafed during several instances, was otherwise an entertaining protagonist, skilled at sea but almost as helpless on land as in the world of politics. His connection with Alaena, the third PoV character and one of the princelings Elrayn attempts to marry into his family, is a source of plenty of tension that pays off really well towards the end of the story.

The action was fantastic, nothing less than what I’ve come to expect from Kang, based on my limited experience with his work.

Crown of the Sundered Empire is an intriguing read with plenty of positive elements. My enjoyment of it was mired by the typos and the extent to which I felt like a newcomer who lacked basic insight into some of the characters’ pasts and world events. Tomas’s story might’ve been a short novel of its own – and I would argue, it would’ve been a finer entry-point to the world for new readers such as myself. As it is, I liked J. C. Kang’s novel well enough, even with the issues I had, which is why I’m giving it 3/5 stars. I feel obliged to say that I’m in the minority – most of the readers who have scored this book over on Goodreads have given it either 4 or 5 stars. What didn’t work for me might very well work for you.

Reading Diary: Uprooted by Ectasy, Terror and Doctor Hoffman's Infernal Devices

I am drunk on words.

Drunk GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I’ve read quite a lot this past week. After finishing Sanderson’s Starsight, whose review you can find here (Spoilers, I thought it was beautiful), I moved onto listening to an old favourite, one of the very first books I ever wrote a teeny, tiny review for. The book in question is Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and revisiting it was excellent fun, thanks in no small part to the narrator, Katy Sobey. I couldn’t believe how much I’d forgotten about some parts, and how my mind had played a trick on me, giving a greater role to characters whose roles really weren’t all that important. Funny how the mind will twist things up.

I moved onto The Devil’s Apprentice (review on the blog just yesterday!), since I was running out of time – my review was supposed to go up on the eighth, a mere four days away! Thankfully, The Devil’s Apprentice was a remarkably easy book to read — I read it in about two hour and a half long sittings. What did I think about that one? Just scroll below this post and you can find out. Or, if you’re prodigously lazy, click here.

Two books down by Friday (Sixth of December), two to go.

The weekend was consumed by postmodernism. Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman was a trippy, bizarre read, albeit wonderful for its strangeness and exquisite language. It’s brutal, though; deeply pornographic, chock-full of acts of pure desire. I have a big essay to write on it, and on Anna of the Five Towns and on To The Lighthouse, all about the ontology of reality through three very different literary currents.

In-between chapters of The Infernal Desire Machines, I read essays by Daniel Mendelsohn from his recently released Ecstasy and Terror. This paperback with its glazed pages is separated into three – Ancients, Moderns and Personals – nouns which encapsulate what the author’s essays are about.

Mendelsohn’s work is quite illuminating. I will take an in-depth look at it eventually, once I’ve read through all the essays and picked my favourites but regardless of whether you prefer the art of Ancient Greece as compared to that of the contemporary world, you will find plenty of note here. My personal so far is a piece called Girl, Interrupted: How Gay was Sappho? and is, of course, all about the Ancient Greek poet known for her poetry as much as for her outrageous sexuality.

My final read–listen–was Alan Cumming’s Not my Father’s Son. This one was horrifying, heartwarming and hilarious all in equal parts. Nothing like the autobiographical works of some ‘stars’, which might as well be screams for attention. I wouldn’t have picked this up as a paperback but I love Alan, I love his voice, I could listen to him for hours and when I saw the audiobook – was it at a sale? – I knew, immediately, I would enjoy every last minute of the man’s velvety voice. I’ll write more about this book later but suffice to say, this one really goes in-depth as to the fuel originally behind Alan’s creative drive. It also plays out like a proper mystery, which delights and excites both. A short review of this one, I think, should appear on the blog within a few days – if I’ve the energy to spare.

This post is somewhat chaotic, written more for myself than for anyone else – that said, I had fun recollecting some of my reading experiences.

As for this coming week? I did start listening to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – might as well continue it, aye? It’s interesting enough – Dickens takes awhile to warm up. Probably due to the fact that he got paid by the word. No rushing that one.

I also dabbled into a Horus Heresy audiodrama – Little Horus. That was fine, not quite as much as I’ve come to expect from Dan Abnett – but it was exceedingly short so I’ll hold no ill will towards him. And hey, I finally got to see what Horus’s Legion looks like after Isthvaan III and V – hooray!

I’ll have to unpack Philip K. Dick’s Ubik for my Researching Literature class, as well. Oh, and plenty more essays on postmodernism to read! And don’t even get me started on the self-published novels I’ve got to get through…

How about you? What’s your reading looking like this coming week?

The Devil's Apprentice by Kenneth B. Andersen – Book Review (Ultimate Blog Tour)

I make a game of the collection of Hells.

Stay with me, I’ll explain. Ever since I was but a young ‘un, I’ve been fascinated by the numerous depictions of the underworld in its myriad religious and…not quite, forms. You give me a TV series like The Good Place, and I’ll have fifteen essays’ worth of ideas about the not-quite-good-at-all place. You give me a game like Afterparty, and I’ll gush for ten minutes, at the bare minimum, about how cool its clock-in/clock-out, exhausted-torturer-demons-in-need-of-a-drink premise is. You give me Dante’s Inferno, and I might really get into Italian for four weeks and memorise a bunch of lines at the age of thirteen, which no non-Italian thirteen year old should know.

And don’t even get me started on Disney’s Hercules.

Disney Movie GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

When my bud Dave of @TheWriteReads fame offered me a part in this Ultimate Blog Tour(TM, prob’ly), I was instantly hooked. Instantaneously. Momentarily. Without delay, I said to him, I told Dave, “Dave, I’m hooked!” Then I promptly deleted that email, it sounds way too unprofessional, don’t it, and I says to him, I sez, “Sure, I’m in.”

Because I’m cool like that.

So how’s this novel? How the HELL is it?

I quite enjoyed it. This is the story of Philip, or as I like to call him “Filip spelled with an uneccessary Ph-” but that’s only my personal lifetime of grievances being aired out again. Where was I?

Ah, yes.

Philip is a good boy, a really good boy, who accidentally gets sent to Hell to become the Devil’s heir. The Devil, Lucifer, is dying and desperately in need of a successor, but there’s been a mistake and Philip is the wrong boy. Philip is terrible at being bad, but Lucifer has no other choice than to begin the difficult task of training him in the ways of evil. Philip gets both friends and enemies in this odd, gloomy underworld—but who can he trust, when he discovers an evil-minded plot against the dark throne?

I enjoyed my time with The Devil’s Apprentice, partly because of the author’s iteration of Hell and partly because Philip and the supporting cast were enjoyable to read about. 12 year old Philip’s struggle to get better at being bad is as hilarious as my attempts at being social during the same age – although he really hits his stride in a matter of days, where I hit mine in…four, five years? What drives Philip to evil? A smitter of jealousy, a sprinkling of envy and — oh yes — a generous helping of manipulation! But fear not, for kids like that can’t do evil right, not for long. I mean, of course, kids whose names start with ‘Ph-‘ and not ‘F-‘, the poor wee buggers. Thank the celestials that he’s got a few demonic influences like Satina, a young temptress devil(ess?) who aids the recently deceased Lucifer-to-be in finding his evil footing. Is there a better thing to learn to lie for than for love?

There were some red herrings, a few mysteries that came to a squeaky clean resolution, and a hero’s journey that is as Campbellian as they come.

While not my usual cup of tea, I appreciate this novel for several reasons, the biggest of which has to do with the fact that it’s very much a child-friendly fantasy book, which has plenty to say about good and evil. The carmic balance doled out in Hell is what I was most fond of — the faces of those who stepped on others in life are used as pavement for the denizens of the underworld, those who have killed themselves spend eternity digging graves and being buried in them AND grave diggers dig those out. On and on goes this hellish torment, tinged with irony. Far from the most original rendition I’ve come across in my time as the Hells’ most avid connosieur but I liked it nonetheless.

Hell, I might read this one to my kids, as soon as they begin to form in their infernal, as of yet unknown, mother’s womb.

My score for this one is a 7.5 out of 10, which I’ll bump to 4/5 stars on Goodreads, since I (nearly) always round up and not down, especially when I enjoy my time with a book, as I did with The Devil’s Apprentice. I might even pick up the next volume, if given half the chance!

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson – Book Review

This review was originally posted over at booknest.eu!

Skyward was an explosive whirlwind of action, quick dialogue and quirky characters that went immensely deep by the time I reached its closing chapter. Little surprise here, as this is Brandon Sanderson we’re talking about. Starsight, meanwhile, is a different beast altogether, delving into the complexities of the galaxy outside of the human settlement/prison that is Detritus.

Spensa is a warrior – if you’ve read Skyward, you know this to be true. Hell, you’d know it to be a severe understatement, since the scudding girl has grown up listening to the finest tales of heroes Old Earth folklore has to offer and wishing to be every single one of them. Beowulf? Sure! Conan the Barbarian? You guessed it! Over the four hundred and fifty pages of this novel, however, Spensa is forced to play a deadly game she does not excel at, constrained into the role of spy when she gets an opportunity that’s impossible to pass by. Leaving her home behind in the guise of a humanoid alien (holograms are so cool!), Spensa has one task – to steal the Superiority’s secret method of hyperdrive transportation.

Most of the action takes place on a space station by the eponymous name of Starsight, which is also the seat of the Superiority. This dread empire intent on humanity’s destruction turns out to be much, much different from what Spensa imagined. This galactic society is so dissimilar to the humanity of Detritus; the most striking moment that illuminated the gap between these aliens and the humans was Spensa’s reaction at the notion of graphic designers, a profession unimaginable to someone who has spent most of her life struggling for survival.

But what is this novel, at its heart?

Starsight is an exploration of the other, and a way to reconcile with it. It is a story of fear, of facing that fear and growing stronger for the staring down of it. It is a tale of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice. And it is beautiful.

On the exploration of the other, I have already said something. But let me dig a little deeper: the two sides of this other are signified by two of the Superiority’s high-ranking officer, Winzik and Cuna. A dione, Cuna is tall and wanky and inhuman, with a predatory smile that puts Spensa on edge. It’s by her invitation that the non-Superiority humanoid pilot, Alanik, is invited. “Alanik” continually questions her motives for the invitation, suspecting Cuna of seeking to use her as a spy for her own political advantage. Winzik, meanwhile, is one of the Krell, as the humans of Detritus call them, a crab-like bureaucratic creature in charge of the Defense ministry. It is his push for creating a pilot force of “lesser, non-prime intelligence aliens” that is the reason behind Spensa’s opportunity to infiltrate the Superiority.

What of fear? The closing of Skyward revealed *Skyward Ending Spoilers until the end of the paragraph* Spensa’s cytonic  and I’ll admit, it got my brows lifted in my trademark look of suspicion. Cytonics sounds positively chthonic and that, even though it means relating to inhibiting the underworld, also puts me in mind of Chthulhu nonsense! I thought with this level of exactness… and the early description of the delvers, the other-dimensional threat that casts a long shadow over much of this novel did indeed tap into that same well-spring of horror of the unknown. It’s the terror of scale, the idea that these otherworldly creatures live beyond the confines of our space and time, too great to even comprehend: “The black mass shifted toward the planet. Were those arms I picked out in the shadows? No, could they be spines? The shape seemed intentionally designed to frustrate the mind, as I tried—against reason—to make sense of what I was seeing. Soon, the blackness simply became absolute.” (39) This is but one of the quotes which plays on this fear…but in typical Sanderson fashion, both my original impressions and those of Spensa’s get twisted around in ways neither of us could’ve dreamed of by novel’s end.

I couldn’t possibly wrap this review up without talking about the new friends Spensa makes along the way. While I regret not having more of Kimmalyn, Jorgen, Cobb and the rest of our merry band of human pilots struggling for humanity’s survival present for a sizable chunk of the book, plenty of new characters make up for this. My absolute favourite new addition to the cast has to be Hesho, a tiny sentient fox monarch, the former monarch of a sizable chunk of his home planet. This member of the kitsen, as his species is called, reminds me of Spensa the way she started off – hungry for glory and heroics and not wholly conscious of the ridiculous level of cheesiness she occasionally exhibited. Some of the funniest pieces of dialogue come from Hesho’s lips: “’Ah, the indignities you must suffer when your people are a true democracy and not a shadow dictatorship ruled by an ancestral line of kings. Right?’ The other kitsen flying past raised a cheer for democracy.” (208) As you might imagine, Hesho is quite a bit removed from your average kitsen, much as he likes to claim otherwise.

He’s far from the only one. Notable characters include Morriumur, the only dione aggressive enough (in the entirety of the species) to try out for fighter piloting. There’s also Vapor, who is a fragment, a species that’s, well, vapor-like. They lack tangible bodies, instead consisting of…I don’t know exactly, some form of gas which, when they are in a resting state, has the smell of cinnamon. Invisible and able to take over electronics, Vapor makes for one of the most interesting characters introduced in Skyward’s world yet. I’m looking forward to learning more about her species.

The prose is, in the usual Sanderson fashion, perfection. It allows the reader to lose themselves fully in this world, while also opening up questions, challenging the reader’s pre-conceptions and delivering clever twists, some of which I saw coming; most of which I didn’t. The very best of escapism, in one neat package, and as you’ve no doubt seen, with a glorious Gollancz cover to grab the attention of  My Skyward cover was the US edition – which is a nice cover, don’t get me wrong, but so generic next to the Gollancz one. I now feel the desperate need to get the UK edition of Skyward as well, just so I can have both covers next to one another – that’s how good the artwork is.

This one is an ace, a 5/5 on Goodreads, a Masterwork, a 10/10! Not a dull moment to be had, not a single of the annoying elements that so often seep into books that are marketed as YA. Bravo, Brandon, you did it again, you madman.