(Goodreads summary here.)
When I first got the email telling me I was on the street team for Skyhunter, I nearly lost it. (I had to really school my expression because I was in class and all I wanted to do was grin from ear to ear.) I don’t think it’s much of a secret that I absolutely adore everything Marie Lu writes, and this was no exception.
From the get-go, all I wanted to do was sit down and read it all in one sitting. Unfortunately, that was not an option, nor was reading it over the course of just a couple of days. While I think that would’ve been a better experience for me personally (less disruption of flow because my goodness, this book flows like a masterpiece), it still absolutely astounded me.
I really cannot say enough about the way Lu crafts characters. She consistently writes some of my favorite characters, with complexities and intricacies that make them jump off the page. While she isn’t my favorite character in one of Lu’s books (looking at you, Adelina Amouteru), Talin is phenomenal. She is compelling and believable and sympathetic, everything I really look for in a main character. More than that, though, I think she’s inspiring. Sometimes I feel like the media and the book community in particular like throwing a “strong female character” label on every character they like. Now, I am all for strong female characters and appreciating when authors nail their execution, but a lot of the time, I find myself in disagreement over what constitutes a strong female character. I think Talin falls right into my definition: fierce yet compassionate, independent yet loyal. For me, it’s always been more than someone who kicks ass and takes names. As much as I love those characters, I also have to feel some connection with them as a person, not as a fighter or soldier or whatever the case may be. Talin is a fighter, through and through; she’s got the ass kicking down. But that’s not all she is, and throughout the book, we see more and more of who she outside of that identity, and that was what really moved me as the story progressed.
The other characters really shone for me as well. Red is one of those complex enemy-turned-ally characters that Lu always seems to execute to a T. One of my biggest gripes in a lot of books surrounds when an all-powerful character is unsympathetic to the reader, and this is so not the case here. From the beginning, the mystery surrounding him and Talin’s own sympathy for him draws you in immediately and only grows as we find out more about him. As much as I firmly believe this is Talin’s story, I kind of wish we had been able to get Red’s perspective as a character, and I am hopeful (if uncertain and unconvinced) that we’ll get multiple perspectives in the sequel.
The same really goes for both Jeran and Rooke. As much as they play a very prominent role in the story, I still wish we had been able to see more of them. There’s no shortage of backstory here, and we get a lot of it so we can see how it shaped them, but I think they’re incredible characters that I could read whole novels about, separate from this one. There are some elements of their characters that I would’ve liked to see develop a little bit more, but this is just the first book in a series and they have to go somewhere in the next one.
If there’s one thing that always gets me with Lu’s books, it’s the world-building. I truly do not know how she does it. Mara, Basea, and Karensa are those kind of places that seem more real than fictional. Sure, some of that is because they’re based off real places and times, but they’re the sort of reflections of the real world that hit closer to home than you would sometimes like. And I think that’s one of the strengths of Skyhunter on the whole: it’s an intimate reflection of the world around us. While we’re clearly this world’s Early Ones, we’re also present in the characters and the world itself in more than just their history. Some of it is subtle while other parts are not, but Lu’s ability to use the true power of fiction to create commentary on our past and present is really remarkable, and it’s one of the many things that keep me coming back to her work.
In the Federation, we see a colonialist superiority complex of manifest destiny, disguising tyranny and Machiavellian power behind a promise of advancement. In Mara, we see a desperate country laced with xenophobia and classism, a stronghold that serves as a savior from the alternative, but one that is far from a utopia. Through these lenses, Lu gives us a reminder that no place is perfect, no society is utopian. Talin recognizes Mara’s limitations, not least because her past and her experiences mark her as an outsider who cannot reap all that the country has to offer. Yet, for her, it becomes home, something that she thinks is worth fighting for. She isn’t blind to its faults, but she fights in part so she can push for their correction.
Plot-wise, this book really has everything. There are fights and battles and break-ins and more battles, with twists and turns along the way that actually surprised me, although hindsight often told me I should’ve. I think that was one of the biggest draws for me throughout: I always thought I knew what was going to happen, and sometimes I was completely right, sometimes I was completely wrong, and sometimes I had some of it right and some of it wrong. That’s really a testament to how Lu weaves her storylines through your expectations, pushing you in one direction while really moving in another. There are really any huge plot twists, but that doesn’t mean I was glued to the edge of my seat for most of the book, waiting for the next thing to happen, whether it was something I anticipated or not. I think there’s a lot to be said for books that rely more on subtle reveals that major ones, because they help to create a more comprehensive narrative overall (again, this novel flows like a dream), whereas a single big twist works towards a singular goal, rather than several smaller ones along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good plot twist, but there’s just something about a series of smaller ones that keeps me drawn in.
Also, I am now totally convinced that Marie Lu has some sort of second sight (either that, or she wrote this much faster than she let on.)(I’m gonna need us to get on the Warcross game stat, minus all the “mind control for the greater good” stuff.) Strikers wearing masks all the time? Some big disease that wiped out the Early Ones? I’m suspicious, just sayin’. With that being said, though, I think it helps the book stand as more of a warning, in a way that Lu (probably) didn’t anticipate.
The writing is, as always, phenomenal. I thought Skyhunter was a bit more action- and dialogue-driven than some of Lu’s other books, but I don’t think that was a detriment. Maybe I would’ve liked a few more visual descriptions to really engulf me in the world, but I really did think the plot and action was enough to keep me fully invested. My one complaint would be that the way the dialogue is formatted isn’t consistent, but considering I read an e-ARC, I can’t really even ground that complaint in reality, since I’m sure it’s been fixed for the final version.
Unsurprisingly, Marie Lu has done it again with an absolutely stunning book. While not my favorite Lu book (only because The Midnight Star set the bar very high), Skyhunter is a breathtaking novel that I truly cannot recommend enough. I will definitely be buying a final copy and rereading it, partly because I’m curious to see if anything changed between the ARC and the final version, but mostly because I loved it.
Are you planning on picking up Skyhunter after it releases on Tuesday (you can still preorder it!)? If you’ve gotten a chance to read it already, what did you think? What authors consistently get it right for you?