Take Back the Skies
Series: Take Back the Skies, #1
Release Date: June 3rd, 2014
Rating: 3.5 stars
Word Rating: Romance of doom
Reviewed by: Blythe
Catherine Hunter is the daughter of a senior government official on the island of Anglya. She’s one of the privileged – she has luxurious clothes, plenty to eat, and is protected from the Collections which have ravaged families throughout the land. But Catherine longs to escape the confines of her life, before her dad can marry her off to a government brat and trap her forever.
So Catherine becomes Cat, pretends to be a kid escaping the Collections, and stows away on the skyship Stormdancer. As they leave Anglya behind and brave the storms that fill the skies around the islands of Tellus, Cat’s world becomes more turbulent than she could ever have imagined, and dangerous secrets unravel her old life once and for all . . .
When a bunch of awesome (and admittedly not-so-awesome) tropes are thrown together into one giant hodgepodge of a novel, the result could be pretty dangerous; at worst, the novel could appear hastily written, or that it's trying too hard to appeal to everyone, thereby doing the opposite. At best, when the tropes are established well, it makes for a truly fun and addicting read. The latter is true for Lucy Saxon's engaging debut, Take Back the Skies. In it, some of my favorite tropes are incorporated, most of all the girl main character disguising herself as a boy, as well as foster family-type relationships.
The novel opens with Catherine (Cat) Hunter, the daughter of a politician, about to consummate an arranged marriage her father had planned. Not wanting to live under her father's cruelty and orders any longer, she cuts her hair, disguises herself as a boy, and runs away from her father onto a trading ship. There, she and her new friends hatch a plan to overthrow her father and unleash to the world the secrets the government has been keeping from them.
Basically, the entire plot of Take Back the Skies is perfect for me, and is thankfully executed really well. I had pitched the first half of the novel as She's the Man meets steampunk Firefly, and I stick by that; although it may lack the comedic value of She's the Man, the scenes during which Cat is disguised as a boy are sure to please fans of the trope. The rest of the plot is extremely fun and interesting, with twists and plenty of political intrigue to go around. This is especially prominent in the second half, after all the planning is through and the arrangements are finally being executed; Saxon brings into play things I hadn't expected, and I loved what she did with the twists of her world and government. Political intrigue and conspiracies related to it are often gritty and dark, and Saxon embraces that for all its worth, and does it damn well.
The main character, Cat is practically ideal, especially for this type of story; she's rational, isn't afraid to call others out (particularly her love interest, which I'll get to), and is an overall likable character who is easy to sympathize with. When the love interest is sexist (which, unfortunately, is pretty often), she doesn't hesitate show him he's wrong, and after he said he has to protect her because she's a girl and it's his job, she walks up to him and slaps him across the face. Again, ideal main character.
Less ideal, however, is the love interest, Fox. The romance in Take Back the Skies really takes its time, surfacing in the last third, which I really appreciated since it allowed for the plot to take more relevancy over the romance. But, to be blunt, I'm just not a fan of Fox's character in general, least of all his growth after the romance begins to form (and rapidly, once it does). Character growth is great, but only really when it's believable and when you can see the growth taking place. Here, Fox is almost unrelentingly rude to Cat, and all they truly do is argue and fight for most of the novel; not fun and banter, which I almost always ship. He tries to protect her, she says she can protect herself, he says he has to protect her because he's a man and she's a woman, rinse and repeat; but when their relationship begins to form, the backbone I loved in Cat takes a bit of a backseat, and Fox isn't called out on his blatant sexism as much. It's still there, as Cat still doesn't hesitate to call Fox out on some of the problematic things he says, but she lets him do the protecting from then on out after their relationship is established, which bothered me. Fox protects her in every scenario deemed dangerous, and ultimately his treatment of Cat could be likened to that of a person with a very fragile infant. Also, their relationship and the sudden passion behind it was just unbelievable; on a tolerance scale, they go from about a one to a ten in a matter of a chapter or two, and then it evolves soon to a cheesy and inexplicable love.
Aside from my qualms with the romance and love interest, Take Back the Skies was a fun and fast paced read that manages to differentiate itself from other novels in its genre. Saxon isn't afraid to take relatively large gambles with her story, characters, and relationships, as clearly evidenced by the novel's ballsy and awesome ending, and I can't wait to read the upcoming sequels in this series and see what more they have to offer. For fans of light steampunk, interesting world-building, compelling characters and an excellent plot, Take Back the Skies is not a debut to be missed.