Book Review: Take Back the Skies, Lucy Saxon (2014)

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Warning: epilogue may cause cursing, stabbiness, and bouts of patriarchy blaming.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher. Also, the second half of the review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

Oh, Take Back the Skies. I really wanted to fall in love with you: deeply, madly, passionately. You had so much going for you: Space travel by way of grand, masted skyships. Steampunk elements in the form of clockwork mechas. Human experimentation resulting in human-robot hybrid killing machines. A plucky young heroine who crossdresses as a boy so that she can more easily navigate the confines of her patriarchal society. An equally young and plucky author – who cosplays, no less! and has a name right out of the Doctor Who ‘verse! – who wrote you as part of NaNoWriMo at the tender age of sixteen.

Your story begins on a promising note. To outsiders, Catherine Hunter is living a charmed life. Born into wealth and privilege, Catherine has it all: a closet brimming with expensive clothes, an extravagant mansion to call home, all the food she can eat (no small luxury in this wartime rationing), and immunity from the Collections (in which the government steals all but the eldest child in a family to power its war machine). But when her physically abusive father promises to betroth her to a boy she can hardly stand – let alone hope to love – Catherine runs away from home…with the blessing of her dying mother, herself the victim of a loveless political marriage.

Dressed in trousers, sporting newly shorn locks, and passing as a commoner boy named “Cat,” Catherine slips away to the shipyard, where she boards the best-looking skyship in the joint: the Stormdancer. Luckily, she finds a friendly crew on board; while they ostensibly trade in furs, Harry, Alice, Matt, Ben, and Fox also smuggle goods and sometimes even children evading the Collections. Even when they discover Cat’s ruse, they’re happy to let her stay; after all, they don’t buy into Anglyan aristocracy’s sexist notions that boys are “more useful” than girls. So far, so good.

(More below the fold…)