MY RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 STARS. RECOMMENDED FOR AN MG AUDIENCE; AS A YA, IT’S A PAPERWEIGHT
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 . . .
While I always try to advocate for young writers as much as I can (Saxon was 16 when she wrote Take Back the Skies), this novel just never sat well with me. So I ended up giving up about halfway in, for these five reasons:
- I found the writing style a little juvenile and overly simplistic. As a result, the tone of the novel had neither the sense of immediacy nor the sense of tension I’ve become accustomed to when reading YA, which in turn made the plot feel both lackluster and impersonal. On the other hand, I honestly think the book would have better met my expectations if I’d walked into it expecting to read a middle grade adventure story, as opposed to a young adult sci-fi/romance.
- I never took a liking to Cat. I personally found her attitude towards her life and her arranged marriage incredibly irritating and unrealistic. I understand why she didn’t want to marry the boy she’d been betrothed to, but the way she went on and on about how she hated her life and everything in it–I found that completely unbelievable. Having been raised knowing nothing else, it just didn’t make sense to me that she wanted nothing to do with the comforts of her life. I could understand a little discontent, even a little guilt over her highborn status. But wanting to angrily reject everything she knows because of that? It honestly just felt like the most contrived way the author could think of to get Cat to run away from home.
- The romance in the novel between the fourteen year old Cat and the eighteen year old Fox is both awkward and sorely out of place. Personally, I feel like Saxon added the romance in the hopes of making the content of her novel more “mature”, but that ultimately backfires. I admit, I could be the only one who feels this way, but Cat and Fox’s romance struck me as almost inappropriate. And it’s not just because of their age gap and vastly different maturity levels; it’s also because of the way Cat seemed to lust after Fox in such a physical way. I can understand being fourteen and having a crush, but the way Cat fixated on the strip of skin that peeked out under Fox’s shirt when he raised his arms, or the way his back muscles pulled under his clothes when he bent over, or the shape of his butt through his pants…I just found it a little ridiculous.
- The signals between the two potentially gay characters were really mixed. To be fair, it’s also possible they aren’t gay, but I’m really hoping Saxon isn’t queer-baiting her readers with the hints she keeps hiding in plain sight. I did get the sense that she simply hadn’t made up her mind about their relationship yet, but that really doesn’t justify her wishy-washy handling of the pair. Hopefully this became clearer one way or the other by the end of the book?
- Cat ‘convinces’ her little ragtag team of smugglers to essentially ‘save the world’, which they agree to do without much real convincing. This actually ended up being the final straw for me, not only because this big moment in the plot had absolutely no sense of tension whatsoever, but because this entire scene felt so fake and contrived. I just didn’t find it believable at all that everyone in the crew could be so easily swayed to risk their lives based on the enthusiasm of one fourteen year old girl they hardly knew.
So, my thoughts overall? It’s not a great book, but it’s not an entirely poor one either. I can’t see where the rest of this six book series will go, but I still give it three stars because I can see Saxon’s potential, especially in her descriptions of the skyship Cat travels on and the love she clearly shows for her secondary cast. In my opinion, with a little work, this series could easily be a gem for younger readers.