The first book in the series, Skyward by Brandon Sanderson, is one of my favorite books of all time. It was so different from the traditional Young Adult books and dealt with very serious issues of PTSD and emotional scarring. What made it even more impactful were how endearing the characters were and how invested in the story I was. When Starsight was first announced, I was excited and eager to continue Spensa’s journey. When I picked it up and started reading, while I enjoyed the book I found it wasn’t quite what I had expected.
Just as in Skyward we follow the adventure of Spensa Nightshade as she continues the fight for humanity. Spensa is easily one of my favorite characters I’ve ever read in any book series. She’s brave and headstrong but still feels fear, anxiety and hesitation. She feels so very human which is a feat not many authors can achieve. It’s something shown in each interaction she has with either human or alien and the conflicting emotions running through her mind are a delight to explore. I genuinely loved seeing her grow throughout the story and how her perspective slowly changed with mostly plausible and reasonable events.
However I wish this was done for the other characters introduced in Starsight. The book’s predecessor, Skyward, was able to achieve the wonderful character that was Spensa but still introduce us to other dynamic characters that were both endearing and fun. Kimmalyn is still one of my favorite side characters of all time. But Starsight feels like it lacks characters with the same kind of passion and personalities the original cast. It’s hard to really feel invested in their fate, especially with how Spensa keeps an arm’s length from them for the majority of the time.
The story for the most part takes place off of Detritus and on a station called Starsight. I can’t say too much about the location without spoiling the story, but a major part of the worldbuilding is the introduction of various alien species. Some are really explored well though more focus towards some than others. While it is engaging, it’s not quite as explored or as in depth as Sanderson’s other works. It’s hard to really get a sense of what life is like on Starsight other than a metropolitan city except filled with a variety of aliens. It’s also very clear the theme of the story is prejudice which is a wonderful concept to explore when aliens and robots are involved, but in the context of the Skyward series, it feels a bit off. Considering humanity is on the brink of being exterminated by an alien threat, it’s a drastic angle that Sanderson took and I think it’s pretty interesting. However the environment of Starsight feels not as impactful as it should.
I never thought I’d say this about a Brandon Sanderson story, but I just felt the plot was all over the place. The inciting incident feels rushed as though it was an excuse just to get Spensa off world. It felt also rather character breaking for Jorgen who is very by the books and rarely breaks protocol especially for something so risky. While the beginning of the book feels rushed to set the stage, the majority of the book grinds to a slower pace.
The major issue, for me at least, is the tonal shift from the first book. It feels like a completely different story than Skyward, moreso than you would expect from a sequel. The first story doesn’t end with a conclusion to the overall series story and, while Starsight isn’t inappropriate as a sequel whatsoever, it felt a bit out of place until the end of the book. It just didn’t feel like it was part of the same universe so to speak. I think the context of the story would have been fine had the inciting incident not been so jarring and sudden. Everything else was well developed and well executed, but that beginning moment that sets off the story just left a rather sour impression throughout the novel.
As to be expected with Brandon Sanderson, the way he writes is masterful. The chapters flow seamlessly from one to the other and it’s so easy to keep reading for hours. The descriptions of Starsight Station and the aliens she encounters are really characterful and evolve as she changes throughout the story. Sentences and paragraphs are quick and easy, giving enough information to the reader without overwhelming them with exposition. We really get a sense of Spensa’s mission, her dilemma and her anxiety. Despite my grievances with the plot, because of Sanderon’s writing I found myself still glued to the page wanting to keep reading.
What Writer’s can Learn from this Book.
Writing a series can be difficult, especially a book in the middle of the over arching story. You can’t end the story so complete to not leave anything for the next book, but there needs to be consideration for the book as a standalone contribution to the series. A book should always have its own plot line that starts and ends within that specific book otherwise the writer risks not having a satisfying ending. When I say plot line, I don’t necessarily mean one that must encompass the entirety of the series. The best example I can think of is one of my favorite book series, The Reckoners by Brandon Sanderson (I really do love this man’s work). Firefight, the second book in the series, has a very self contained story that begins and ends within the book but still leaves room for the third book. There’s the plot line of Megan and David and the story of Regalia and Babilar that encompass the majority of the book and have a satisfying conclusion to each of those arcs that gives a proper ending. In Starsight it felt as though the plot just stops suddenly leaving the reader wanting more but in a negative sense. The reader walks away feeling denied a proper conclusion to the book.
I really hate abrupt cliffhangers.