*Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

A beleaguered planet, flight school, and one young woman’s quest to prove herself and clear her family honor combine in this excellent YA.

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson. Delacorte Press, 2018, 528 pages.

Ever since her late father was branded a coward, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot and reclaiming her family’s honor. The motto of her cave-dwelling people is Defiant and it suits Spensa to a T. Someday she will fly, just like her father, and defeat the alien Krell who threaten her planet.

As Spensa nears the age of determining her career, she realizes the odds against her are overwhelming. When an unexpected ally helps her join flight school as a cadet, Spensa’s position is tenuous. Part of a flight taught by an unconventional leader, she grudgingly begins to learn that being a pilot means being part of something bigger —a team.

Throughout the story, Spensa grows in understanding for her classmates and realizes privilege doesn’t always make life easy. As Spensa and readers will find, the truth can be hard to accept, and vainglory with needless sacrifice is not worth the cost of a human life. Despite her gritty exterior and ridiculous blustering, readers learn to appreciate Spensa as well as her long-suffering flight mates and friends.

Human life is valued in Skyward. While there is no faith, a clear line is drawn between the value of machines and the pilots who fly them. In chapters interspersed through the story, Sanderson turns from Spensa’s perspective to some of the leaders around her, giving a glimpse into military strategy and decision making.

Though a series starter, Skyward could be treated as an excellent stand-alone novel in the YA sci-fi genre. Details about flight school, military politics, and intense air combat scenes make the story feel more like a military novel than standard sci-fi. If you ever wondered about wing fighter culture in Star Wars, here’s a whole story for you.

With no language or sex, Skyward is an anomaly in the world of YA. We can only hope that Brandon Sanderson continues the series in the same vein as his opening novel.

Cautions: None

Overall rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4.5
  • Artistic Value: 4.5

Also by Brandon Sanderson: The Rithmatist series.

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Born in a library and raised by books, or rather, raised by a book-loving family, Hayley loves talking and writing about books. She lives in the middle of Wisconsin and works with children as well as with coffee.


  1. Becky on March 8, 2019 at 6:56 am

    I’m a big fan of Sanderson’s work as a whole, as he’s pretty much become my favorite living fantasy author, and read this one earlier this year. Based on other things I’ve read of his, he generally keeps his work pretty clean. The only hints (not shown) of sex between characters that I recall are between married couples, and any swearing tends to be made up phrases specific to whatever world he’s currently writing in. I’d feel pretty comfortable letting my teens read his work in general, if I had them. I hope that helps!

    • Hayley on March 14, 2019 at 12:23 pm

      Becky, thank you for your comment! I’ve only read a couple of Sanderson’s other books, so I appreciate your input. I love his made-up phrases versus swearing —and like you, the only sex implied has been between married characters. I do think his adult books have more violence and gore than Skyward. —All good to be aware of if you have a teen reader who wants to track down some more of his fantasy!

  2. Emily on May 23, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    Thank you so much for this suggestion, Hayley. My oldest, Rebecca, was willing to give it a try on your recommendation, and so far she has really enjoyed it. Thanks so much for giving me an afternoon off. : )

    • Hayley on May 24, 2019 at 10:34 pm

      So glad she’s enjoying it, Emily!

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