Series: Skyward (3)
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 27/11/2021
Fleeing the Superiority, Spensa has arrived in the Nowhere, a realm beyond the physical universe. Stranded and alone, Spensa must find a way home. But this new universe holds dangers of its own . . .
I’m a big Brandon Sanderson fan. Have been since I first picked up The Way of Kings. He’s a writer with a seemingly limitless imagination, and a work ethic to match. So far as I’m concerned, the man has not put out a bad book. But Cytonic is certainly not one of his best. There are a couple of reasons for that, some of them unique to this book, and some that are true of the wider Skyward series. Let’s look into that.
Like most of his books that don’t fall under the broad umbrella of epic fantasy, the Skyward series is intended for a Young Adult audience. With the caveat that Young Adult is, like pretty much all genre labels, a marketing tool more than anything else, it is intended for an audience that I am no longer part of. Yes, YA can be enjoyed by readers of any age, just as young adults can enjoy books intended for more mature audiences. But a lot of the tropes associated with YA novels no longer appeal to me. Truth be told, a lot of them never did. In particular, I am well-past enthusiasm for coming-of-age stories, which is one of the fundamental building blocks of YA storytelling. Skyward, along with Susan Dennard’s Witchlands, is one of only two YA series I am still reading, and both of them are set to finish very soon. In some ways Skyward is a hanger-on from an earlier phase of my reading experience.
That said, there’s been a lot to like about this series. Ever since the days of X-Wing, I’ve loved tales of fighter pilots, and Skyward is one of the few series to feature these squadrons. Even if they’re wrapped in tropes I’m not overly fond of, Sanderson’s action scenes continue to be excellent. There’s also a nice thematic continuation of the series in Cytonic, as Spensa joins a ragtag band of pilots trying to survive in the Nowhere. In the first book, she fought for a place in the defenders of her world, in the second she went undercover in an enemy squadron, and here we have a third interpretation of what it means to be wingmates. You could argue that there’s a repetitive side to this, but for me it worked. Variations on a theme, and all that jazz.
Unfortunately, thematic continuation is the only only sort of continuity we get. With Spensa in a different universe, Cytonic understandable feels disconnected from the first two books. Aside from a few interludes in which we glimpse Detritus, Spensa and M-Bot are the only characters to carry over from previous books. Yes, we get more insight in the history of the universe. And yes, we learn a lot about the Delvers. But so much of the work done in Skyward and Starsuight is set aside for this. So many story arcs are not advanced. And that’s frustrating. I have confidence in Sanderson. he’s written so many books that I enjoy, that I am certain he can pull things in the final volume (Defiant, hopefully released in 2022). But the simple truth is that Cytonic often feels like a distraction from the main story, rather than a key part of it.
It’s inevitable that a prolific author will put out a book that doesn’t work for me, and Cytonic is the closest Sanderson has come so far. That being said, Cytonic is still a fun read, even if it doesn’t do everything I hoped it would.