(2021) Brandon Sanderson, Gollancz, £20, hrdbk, 417pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21793-5
Humanity has been crushed, driven almost to extinction, trapped on a single planet under near-constant, devastating attack by alien starfighters. And now Spensa knows why. But another attack is on the way – and it hides an even greater danger. Will even Spensa’s new knowledge be enough to bring about peace, before everything is destroyed?
Cytonic is the third novel in Brandon Sanderson’s 'Cytoverse', featuring Spensa Nightshade and M-Bot, her trusty AI companion, and follows on from the previous two novels Skyward and Starsight. While fans of the series have been waiting with bated breath for this latest adventure, Sanderson has been feeding their fire by releasing novellas about the Skyward team, minus Spensa, as eBooks and in audio, which will be gathered in a forthcoming print edition. There are three so far and they run in parallel to the stories told in the novels. In Cytonic, Sanderson gives the reader a story told in five parts, told over 43 chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue. There are also some interludes between the parts and some graphics depicting different ships, different races, and even a spec of a cleaning drone.
Followers of the series will know that the previous book, Starsight, ended with a shocking cliff-hanger, involving one of the major characters, so readers were left on tenterhooks to learn if that character was going to be restored to full health, or were they going to be incomplete? No spoilers here, and I’m doing my best, honest, but you can probably guess which character I mean from my clunky description.
Here, Spensa is on another quest, which builds in scope, and deadliness and importance from the quests she undertook in books 1 and 2. Sanderson ups the stakes and demonstrates his world-building abilities by taking Spensa into the Nowhere, a universe beyond her own, and while it is a different and bewildering place she is soon on familiar ground – almost – by joining another group of pilots within the Nowhere allowing Sanderson to spin another variation on crew camaraderie and action scenes at which he excels. But while the Nowhere is a very different place, this is a very different novel from its predecessors, divorced from the familiar faces and places of the first two books, in many ways it retreads some of book one. Also, given the frantic, wham-bam ending of book two, this third book is very much a case of “sigh, deep breath, let’s take things a bit easier” so regular readers might be a bit put off by the switch to a whole new universe and the slow pacing in the first half of the book before things pick up in the second half. Sanderson does admit in his end notes that Cytonic needed the most revisions (per word count) of all his books. Forget about the difficult second book of the trilogy, this was clearly the difficult third book of the quartet.
Cytonic demonstrates many of the typical Sanderson trademarks – world-building, exotic characters, action, banter, humour, carefully detailed “tech stuff”– but there are also some slightly unbelievable subplots involving Spensa and the new crew she encounters which are a bit too neat in their resolution, or really of no consequence because they are never going to come to fruition, and although they stir up some inner-conflict within her they almost come across as padding. All in all, Cytonic isn’t up to the standard of the two previous books in the series, but we can expect Sanderson will bring the series to a satisfying close in Defiant. Fingers crossed.
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