Warning: this post contains spoilers for Brandon Sanderson’s Starsight, as well as the previous book in the series, Skyward.
To be perfectly honest, I did not have high expectations when I picked up Skyward. Even though it was a Sanderson, which are almost all fantastic, the description just didn’t resonate with me, probably because it sounded a little bit too much like a stereotypical fighter pilot story. Don’t get me wrong – I know some great fighter pilots who barely fit the stereotypes at all – but in general it’s not an archetype to which I’m drawn, so the idea of a whole story revolving around that wasn’t attractive to me. But it did say Sanderson on the cover, so I did eventually read Skyward. I have to say this was a case of not judging a book by its summary, because Skyward genuinely did draw me in, and I found it to be a unique, compelling story. So when Starsight came out, I may have wished a little that he had been working on Stormlight Archives, instead, but I was eager to read this second installment in the series.
What makes this series really compelling to me is the World (and I capitalize it because there are multiple worlds involved, so in this case I’m really referring to universe). It starts out as sort of a standard dystopian science fiction universe, with the humans apparently consigned to a single, desolate planet where they are kept imprisoned by a race of faceless alien oppressors. Gradually, though, you begin to get hints of something more interesting going on, hints that are fulfilled and expanded upon by Starsight.
As an author, I’m keen on unique worlds (or Worlds), and this one is a prime example. In fact, it’s one of the few recent examples of really innovative science fiction that I’ve read. These things seem to go in waves: a few decades ago, there was a plethora of new, interesting, unique science fiction on the market, and only the occasional good fantasy novel. That situation has since seemed to switch. I will admit that I have rather strict standards for science fiction, given my “real” job as an engineer.
However, what really makes Starsight stand out, both from other novels in general, and from its predecessor, Skyward, is its perspective taking. Most of the novel is focused around Spensa trying to come to terms with the alien society in which she finds herself, and how, despite how oppressive it seemed from her home world, it isn’t nearly so monodimensional. Sometimes, these perspective-taking treatments can be a bit heavy-handed, and there were a couple of places where Starsight started to stray in that direction, but mostly it did a very nuanced job.
One of main reasons to read, in my opinion, is the opportunity to vicariously experience situations, people, and ideas that you would never be able to experience otherwise. Starsight absolutely delivered that, and despite my initial misgivings about the series, I would definitely recommend both books.
A final note: this is one of Sanderson’s young adult novels, so don’t expect it to have the heft of The Way of Kings, but unlike many young adult books on the market, this one doesn’t feel like it’s talking down to you.