Delacorte Press, 2019, 480 pages
All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she's a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing. The rumors of his cowardice are true - he deserted his flight during battle against the Krell. Worse, though, he turned against his team and attacked them.
Spensa is sure there's more to the story. And she's sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars - and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie.
But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself - and she'll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to.
Brandon Sanderson has a reliable storytelling schtick: a universe will be introduced to us with unanswered questions, the protagonist will gradually discover that How Things Really Work is not what everyone believes, and usually the protagonist will tap into some super-secret power or three to save the day. Clues will have been planted all along as to the nature of the world's cosmology, but when the truth is actually revealed, it will still read like a bit of an ass-pull.
Also, the protagonist will always be brave and true with a few adorable flaws.
I liked Skyward, Sanderson's YA space opera. Starsight is the sequel, and (spoiler) it ends on a cliffhanger, so it's obviously going to be at least a trilogy.
In the first book, we met Spensa, the daughter of a disgraced starfighter who has special gifts that allow her to rise in the ranks of the pilots who defend her homeworld, Detritus, against the alien Krell. At the end of the book, we learned that the Krell are basically jailers keeping humans remotely contained on their world with use of drone fighters.
Starsight begins with another spaceship "defecting" to the human colony in the middle of an attack. Conveniently, the alien who defects from the Superiority is a young female of a species close enough to human that Spensa can disguise herself as the alien, with the help of holograms projected by M-Bot, the sassy AI of unknown origins she acquired in the previous book. Also conveniently, the alien she is going to masquerade as is badly injured in the battle and can't talk to Spensa before she takes advantage of a very narrow window of opportunity to... fly off and join the Superiority by pretending to be her, using holograms and a translator pin.
It's a very contrived set-up. Spensa's ability to pull this off, and infiltrate the Superiority, get to know the alien confederation that is keeping humans imprisoned and isolated, make friends with various species, and be courted by high-ranking Superiority officials who are actually part of rival factions, is very space operatic and a bit implausible, but fits the tone of this YA novel.
The aliens are a quirky mix of beings with extremely alien physiologies but near-human psychology. There is a samurai gerbil monarchy, a race of sentient smells that can take over spaceships, the crab-like Krell, and another elite species that reproduces by fusing halves to create a "prototype" child who's allowed to live for a few months to take their personality out for a spin, before the parents decide whether to keep her or throw her back and try again.
Also, there are humans, who it turns out were the scourge of the galaxy, and are now imprisoned on several colony worlds because they've already tried to conquer the galaxy three times. I would have liked to see a bit more moral reflection by Spensa, upon realizing that maybe her people really are the bad guys, or at least that much of the Superiority has reason to think so. But we stay firmly centered in her humancentric POV, where her people have been oppressed and imprisoned for generations by corrupt and hypocritical aliens. To the degree that there are shades of gray, it's regarding the other member races of the Superiority, who are used as canon fodder by the elites.
One of the big mysteries in this book revolves around the secret of hyperspace travel, which Spensa can accomplish using her rare "Cytonic" powers, but which the Superiority keeps jealously to itself. Let's just say the cute thing that's been riding along for comedy relief the whole time turning out to be the savior of mankind is very Sanderson.
The other big mystery is the true threat to the Superiority and human civilization alike, because Sanderson likes his truly Big Bads, and they manifest as both more and other than they seem.
Spensa continues to be a slightly adorkable heroine, a little less spunky and prone to goofy one-liners than in the first book, written the way our milquetoast Mormon author always writes women: even when she's badass, it's in a completely moral and extremely modest way. There's a hint of romance with her frenemy from book one, the handsome, by-the-book commander of her flight, which never goes beyond a brief goodbye kiss.
I liked the story and Spensa is cute, but it is very much a juvenile novel, kind of anime with a Star Wars aesthetic. Enjoyable for fans of the genre, and I'll certainly continue with the next book.
Also by Brandon Sanderson: My reviews of Elantris, The Mistborn trilogy, The Alloy of Law, Steelheart, The Way of Kings, Warbreaker, and Skyward.
My complete list of book reviews.