This review is spoiler-free for Cytonic but does contain spoilers to the end of Starsight.
I like Cytonic, the third Skyward novel, but didn't love it. The book does what it does well, but I expect Cytonic to be a divisive book, even moreso than Starsight was. In fact, if you didn't like that Starsight didn't have Skyward Flight characters, this book might be even worse for you.
At the end of Starsight, we see Spensa hop into the mysterious nowhere, and well, that's exactly what we get in this book. It's another Spensa adventure in a new location, where we learn more things about the world and meet a bunch of characters. For those of you who really like Spensa and delving (heh) into cytonic, magic, and lore stuff, I think you could really love this book.
I liked Cytonic pretty evenly throughout the book. Brandon makes it easy to get absorbed into the story, and I cruised through the novel quickly. The worldbuilding, as usual, is fascinating, and there new mysteries introduced as well as old mysteries getting solved in very satisfactory ways. In many respects, the worldbuilding is the highlight of this book, which really carried me through it rather than the characters or plot.
Those of you who watched the Starsight Reactions episode and Brandon Beefs Shardcasts know that I really liked 95% of Starsight, but I had major issues with an aspect of the ending. I felt deflated and unexcited about the future of the series. Well, Brandon did it: he actually solved one of my huge issues with Starsight, which in my opinion was sorely needed. I am genuinely surprised he pulled it off considering how much I hated that last five percent of Starsight.
There is a worldbuilding decision made that even though it made sense, it lowered the tension in most of the book, which made many combat sequences weaker because of it. I don't know about you, but I loved in Skyward the existential threat and danger I felt every time Skyward Flight lifted off. For much of this book, especially in its middle, I did not feel that, so combat sequences felt off without that tension. I think this lack of tension is this book's biggest flaw. Rarely did I feel like Spensa was in actual danger, so some moments that were supposed to be big deals did not land.
But the other big flaw of the book is really baked into the core premise of the book: Spensa is in the nowhere, so it can feel somewhat like a sidequest. In that sidequest, there's another objective that feels like yet another sidequest, which we spend a good chunk of the book on. This, combined with the lowered tension for most of the book, is realistically the biggest flaw of the book.
Along with that, we don't get to see a lot of old cast members. It's essentially the same issue you could have had in Starsight. I love the Skyward Flight crew a lot! The interplay with them and Spensa was fantastic in Skyward, and I did miss them in Starsight, which had a different crew who I liked, but didn't like as much as the old side characters. Well, there's new side characters here, and though I also liked them, it's hard for me to get particularly invested in them when each new book it seems like the old side characters aren't really in the next volume. Will I see these in the fourth and final book in the series? Maybe Brandon can pull it all together, perhaps, but I'm skeptical.
Fortunately, if you miss the Skyward Flight characters, there's a solution: three Skyward Flight novellas! The first two, Sunreach and ReDawn, are already out, with the third, Evershore, coming out December 28th. They are ebook and audio-only for now but there will be a collection of all three novellas coming eventually. I do think these novellas are mandatory reading, because otherwise this series feels disjointed. The novellas and Cytonic complement each other fantastically. Love Spensa and M-Bot? Well you get a lot of that in Cytonic. Do you miss the other side characters? The Skyward Flight novellas give you loads of that. I actually think the plotting in the novellas is superior to Cytonic and as a whole, better than this book.
So, that's a lot of complaining, but don't get me wrong, I did actually like Cytonic. It's hard to go into detail because the nowhere is so mysterious, and this is spoiler-free, so it's hard to not be vague. But really: the mysteries and lore in here are fantastic, and oh man, I loved the ending. I am a very ending focused reader, and it was by far the best part of the book. I felt that tension and dread again. It was intense and emotional, and makes me incredibly excited for the next book. Considering how after Starsight I wasn't sure if I'd even like the rest of the series, I must say, Cytonic did the legwork and I'm into this. In that respect, I suppose I have to rate Cytonic above Starsight, if I was ranking the books in the series. Your mileage may differ, however, since endings do really make or break a book for me.
We will have our usual reactions Shardcast on Cytonic coming December 4th, and we will get into the spoilers and more specifics about this. Having many people on the show comment on the book will be interesting, because I said, I expect this book to be divisive and different people could feel vastly differently from my view. I'm so curious how you all will feel as well, so hit up our Cytonic spoiler board and our spoiler channel in our Discord server and let us know what you felt about the book.
Edited by Chaos