I had so much fun with this book. I’ve not really seen Brandon Sanderson go full sci-fi before. He did that novella, Snapshot, but that’s pretty much it. Everything else has been in the realms of epic fantasy, superheroes, and the more speculative end of fantastical fiction that doesn’t really have a scientific basis (i.e. Legion).
But I wasn’t really worried because a lot of the same tools he uses for his fantasy books are also applicable to sci-fi. He’s a fantastic worldbuilding, an excellent plotter, and is great at structuring a narrative. He’s not always the strongest on his characters, but when he makes them good, he makes them good.
Spensa is our main character here, and while I’d say she’s not one of his best, she’s at least always interesting. She lives on a world where her people are constantly at war with an alien species trying to wipe them out. Most of the humans live underground in a system of caves, and great prestige in their society is won if you become a pilot to fight the aliens. Spensa’s father is a notorious traitor, who was killed after endangering a mission by fleeing the battle. Ever since, she’s been determined to prove herself, especially as she’s not had it easy as the daughter of a coward. Their society places an undue amount of emphasis on being brave, but their definition of that word is not mine. It’s more like bravado, and one of the central conflicts of the novel is Spensa learning to sort out what true bravery is versus what she’s always been taught.
There are really two core stories here. The first is that this is a training academy story. Spensa enrolls and begins learning to fly with a cohort of other newbies, and we get to know them very well. Sanderson also does something I love, which is bring us along to her lessons. I LOVE when authors can write well about characters learning things, because it feels like you’re learning as well. The second story here, and the one that inspired it in the first place, is that Spensa finds a spaceship in an abandoned cave, a spaceship that can talk, and fixes it up. Sanderson got this idea not from sci-fi novels, but as an homage to all the books he read growing up that featured a hero finding a dragon egg or a baby dragon and raising it, riding it, most often into battle. So our spaceship here is just as much dragon as it is spaceship in origin (and the spaceship was honestly my favorite character).
So, yet another win for Sanderson, and I can’t wait for the next one. I sort of wish I’d waited to read it, because about halfway through it was going to be one of those books I was going to want the next one for right away.