March 5, 2024

Review: Sky's End

Sky's End Sky's End by Marc J. Gregson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is about a society with stark class divides (the Highs and Middles are the rulers and elite respectively, and the Lows are the serfs) on an environmentally ravaged planet with floating sky cities and islands above a surface hidden by black acid clouds, with survivors Below who construct cyborg monsters and dream of getting their revenge on those Above.

It's a first novel, and as a consequence the opening chapters are a bit rough. The protagonist, Conrad, was born Conrad Urwin and is trying to get revenge on his uncle for casting him and his mother out to the Lows. After he joins the Selection and is picked to join the Hunter Trade--the elite sky-faring monster-hunters--and finishes his training and starts serving on a skyship, the narrative smooths out a bit.

Unfortunately, the worldbuilding is just as rough: it makes superficial sense as you're reading, but you can't think about it too much. (For example: if the people Below can't really grow crops, why haven't they starved to death long before now? And how can they have enough of an industrial society to create the massive metallic/organic Gorgantuan skyserpents and other cyborg critters that bedevil the Skylands? Furthermore, how can a sky serpent hundreds of feet along--and at the climax, one called a Gigataun appears that is a mile long--even move, much less function? And how can floating sky islands have rivers and waterfalls on them? Wouldn't the water just gush over the edge and run dry?)

Ultimately, what saves this story is the characters. Conrad is a sullen sixteen-year-old grieving the loss of his mother, nurturing hate for his uncle, and trying to rescue his younger sister Ella from his uncle's clutches. He is obsessed with "rising," the process of working through one's selected Trade to a higher position in society. He has an absorbing inner conflict--the contrast between his frankly right bastard of a father, who whipped this kid repeatedly in an attempt to show him he has to be selfish and ruthless, and his mother, who tried to teach him caring and compassion. Over the course of the book, he learns to trust in and work with others, and gradually discovers a new family in the crew of his skyship, the Gladian. Another character, Conrad's nemesis Pound, changes from a bully who hates Conrad's family and all they stand for, to a more humble crewmember who knows his limits and is willing to serve on the Gladian alongside his former mortal enemy. The entire crew of the Gladian consists of well-drawn, fleshed-out characters who each have their own journeys, and the characters carry the book through its rough spots.

Along the way, Conrad, Pound and crew discover the existence of those Below, and realize the Skylands are in mortal danger (their capitol, the sky island of Ironside, is destroyed by the aforementioned Gigataun by ripping out its "heart," the apparent anti-grav mechanism that keeps the islands afloat). This portion of the storyline is wrapped up fairly well, but obviously there's a lot more to come.

This book needs better, more thought-out worldbuilding, but it wasn't a deal-breaker, at least for me. I can usually forgive a lot of first novels. Hopefully the next two books in the trilogy will straighten out these issues, as this world has a lot of potential here.

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