Summary: Six islands float high above the Endless Ocean, where humanity’s final remnants are locked in brutal civil war.
Their parents slain in battle, twins Kael and Brenna Skyborn are training to be Seraphim, elite soldiers of aerial combat who wield elements of ice, fire, stone and lightning.
When the invasion comes, they will take to the skies, and claim their vengeance.
Review: In what we can assume is a far-future time though it’s never explicitly stated as such, the world is very different from what most people imagine fantasy worlds to be. Instead of taking place on terra firma, humanity has moved to islands in the sky, kept aloft by the grace of God and the theotechs of Center. Kael and Bree, whose parents were killed years ago, are tested for elemental affinity and chosen to join the seraphim, winged fighters and defenders of the islands, following in the footsteps of their deceased parents. But things aren’t quite as straight-forward as they seem, and as time goes on, both Kael and Bree find increasing evidence to show that all is not right with the world, and that their very presence may have further-reaching consequences than either of them could predict.
The world that Dalglish sets up is one that appeals to me. Maybe I’ve just been spending a lot of time in worlds that centre around flight, but something about the seraphim really caught my attention. The seraphim of Skyborn aren’t so much winged messengers of God so much as they are humans with elemental affinity, given mechanical wings powered by magic to enable them to fly. Beyond the thrilling prospect of flight, there was the very notion of the islands themselves, and how they came to be. I like it when books play with religious elements and twist them around a little, so the idea that God might have come and changed humanity, allowing a theocracy to spring up and use magic to keep floating islands going so that people can be closer to God… Yes, there was definitely something in that idea that struck a chord with me, and while I thought that most of the world-building was done on the surface rather than digging deep, it was developed enough to keep me intrigued, and it didn’t raise any questions that had contradictory answers within the text. Dalglish did a lot by keeping things vague, allowing the reader to focus on the world and events at hand rather than dwelling too much on what got them there in the first place.
However, the story itself felt like it was padded in too many places. Allowance can be made for some of this, since the reader is, at times, learning alongside the two protagonists. Their lives have changed, a new chapter begun, and so it makes sense that there’ll be some info-dumping now and again, because they’re getting it too. But when the first chapter essentially has someone walking Bree through the steps involved in strapping on a pair of borrowed wings and how to use her body to maneuver while in flight, it feels unnecessary. Much of that scene could have been skipped, the lessons stated later on. Or the scenes in which Bree and Kael build their respective romantic relationships. Good for character development, bad for pacing, because after a while, it gets dull to read about them going on dates when what I want to know is what’s happening next in the main plot.
And the bulk of the plot doesn’t really pick up in pace until well past the halfway point, leaving the first half feeling much like a, “Here’s what I did at flight camp today” story. Details are great, but at times it seemed like they were coming at the expense of the story.
As far as characters go, much of what needs to be said is about Bree. While Kael plays a part in the story, Bree is the centre of attention for much of the novel. Which is understandable. After all, she has a natural talent at flight, breaks academy records, is insubordinate when she feels like things aren’t going her way, attracts the attention of an older student, and has such a headstrong hot-tempered personality that her control over her fire element is practically nonexistent and yet is the most powerful anybody’s ever seen.
It’s hard to read a lot of her scenes without Mary Sue accusations. And really, she does fit the mold. Even her flaws turn into strengths in the end. Every major event that happens, happens because of her. Even other characters admit it. Which could be find if Bree was the only main character, despite all of her overblown awesomeness. But when she’s alongside Kael, who is average in most ways except for the fact that he ends up dating a royal daughter, the focus comes off as very lopsided, and you start to wonder what the point of Kael is to begin with.
Maybe he’ll play a larger role in later novels in the series. I hope so, because he really doesn’t get much time to shine in Skyborn, overshadowed as he is by his sister.
But despite those fairly large flaws, Skyborn is, over all, an enjoyable book. It ends on a fascinating cliffhanger, things are really starting to heat up politically, and while I wish Bree hadn’t been so overpowered, I am interested in seeing how her story continues in future novels. And Kael’s. Because he needs more love. The writing is smooth even when the pacing is off, the world is interesting and only getting moreso, and Dalglish has given us a pretty compelling beginning to a new aerial fantasy series. Consider me in for future installments.