(NOTE: I received this book for free from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.)
Release Date: June 3, 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (USA edition)
Age Group: YA
Genres: Science fiction, romance, dystopian, steampunk-ish
Format/Source: Hardcover (UK edition), Received from publisher (Thank you, Walker Books!)
Pages: 384 (hardcover)
Find the Book: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
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 . . .
I first became interested in Take Back the Skies for its premise (and title, because it’s pretty cool). Sure, the running-away-from-home starter seems painfully overused, and so does the rebellious teenage girl fleeing an arranged marriage, but the idea of skyships and storms appealed to me. And no matter how common it may be, girls running off and dressing as boys get me excited. (Probably because Mulan. Despite its shortcomings, I loved that movie.) The blurb/synopsis of the book made it sound like there would be some serious sky swashbuckling and adventure all around, too, and HOW could I say no to that? There was potential for some serious action, maybe a ship or two (I am THE shipper of fictional characters and besides, I adore pretty flying boats), and many feels. I’d read some negative reviews for this book before, but I thought I’d give this a try anyway. I pushed away my doubts for the possibility of a good deal of fun.
Plus, Lucy Saxon started writing Take Back the Skies when she was sixteen, and finding books by teenage authors always brightens my day – because it helps me believe I can
find people who actually like my crazy-weird writing make it in the publishing world, too. I mean, I’m a teen writer myself. Just seeing another teenager’s book in a bookstore is like a pep talk.
Overall, I was hoping, against my better judgment, that this book would manage to breathe some much-needed life into some very tired plot elements. I like adventure, okay? I thought, I surrender. I will read this book. My better judgment grumbled.
And you know what? I should really start just listening to my better judgment.
My acknowledgement of the potential of this premise is the only thing that gives it that extra .5 star.
It started right from the book’s first few pages. I couldn’t bring myself to like Cat, the main character. All the “suffering” that causes her to leave home – an abusive father, an arranged marriage, an artificial life – was sort of force-fed to me in endless “telling” rather than being “shown” to me through Cat’s emotions and actions. Even the portrayal of her supposedly “horrid” father made him seem a little grumpy but mostly harmless. (More on the father later.) And because there was no emotional evidence that Cat was leading a downright horrible life, her decision to run away from her comfortable, rich home full of opportunities when she had nowhere to go and no plan seemed immature and unwise.
Yeah, survival skills in action right there.
This problem with Cat’s view of her upper-class life only got worse. Throughout the book, Cat insists that everything about her government-privileged life was bad, despite her full knowledge that the middle-class and poor in her country have been starving to death and having their children carted off in “Collections” to do who knows what. This shows a disturbing lack of appreciation for the extra opportunities she must have had – which heightened my dislike of her.
Also, melodrama much? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t go around calling some guy I met when I was fourteen “the love of my life”. Or making impassioned
tantrums speeches every time someone dared to question my judgment. (Interestingly enough, the love interest was often the only one who wasn’t subject to aforementioned “speeches”.) And her need to sound clever so that others accept her is just a total failure. I understand the urge to make yourself look better, but it’s just embarrassing when your “witty” (read: absolutely sickening) little lines actually work on every other character. Cat Hunter’s angst was, in a word, unbearable.
I was hoping that there would be some interesting dimensions explored in Cat’s conflict with her ogre of a father, but that didn’t happen either. No complexity was added to his character whatsoever, and he was made out to be just your typical maniac with no apparent backstory or motives, hurting people for the heck of it. It was inexplicable and very, very boring.
The love interest, Fox, had no chemistry with Cat. Their romance was about as convincing as a house built of sticks – thrown together and likely to blow away in the slightest wind. I couldn’t even figure out what Fox liked about Cat. He was madly in love with her in about five seconds and that was that. The worst part about this – and there are plenty of bad parts – is that this romance was absolutely unnecessary. The book would’ve been better off without it, and it really doesn’t contribute to the plot.
Cat is mainly attracted to Fox because he’s older, good-looking, and mysterious. This made me alarmed right away, because that’s almost never a foundation for a good relationship, even outside of books. Even though he’s rude to her and excessively moody, she doesn’t realize that a guy she constantly argues with might not be the best boyfriend – although she’s plenty angry at him. To add insult to injury, or the other way around if you’d like to interpret it like that, Fox is a sexist pig. Almost all of their arguments involve Fox insisting that since Cat’s a girl, she has to be protected, and Cat not putting up a real fight about it because she thinks he’s attractive. This is not ship-inducing banter – it’s rage-inducing banter. Then when he has one of his characteristic mood swings and randomly apologizes, he’s instantly forgiven. Anything that is written as supposed “romantic tension” between the two just feels like plain tension, the old-fashioned “please punch him” kind.
Then, after *cough* (spoiler that isn’t much of a spoiler, highlight to view) one rushed, poorly written, and very badly timed kiss – the action-movie kind that happens for no reason just after a dramatic, bloody death – suddenly Fox and Cat were all over each other. They were blatantly in a relationship, kissing each other on the cheek or mouth nearly every other sentence, for no apparent reason whatsoever. Fox went from arguing with Cat’s every word to being “besotted” (yes, that word was actually used) with her. Instant love at its finest.
I can’t ship that ship, okay, Cat? I ship your skyship more than I ship you and your pretty boyfriend.
And this insta-love turned to insta-like with every single other character. Perhaps I’m the only one who wasn’t charmed by Cat’s awkwardness, selfishness, and propensity for stupid plans, because it was very hard to believe that she could propose such simple strategies to grown men and one woman and get the “okay” from them in less than five seconds.
Maybe Cat had mind-control powers that I didn’t catch on to. Who knows?
Anyhow, Cat didn’t ever have to make the slightest effort to get people to listen to her, which made me want to scream. No one is going to listen to a crazy and naive fourteen/fifteen-year-old who has far too much confidence in her own limited skills. Unless one of her skills is having to be rescued by her boyfriend, because she’s great at that. I wouldn’t have minded if Cat actually displayed some leadership skills to begin with, but no. She’s rather irritating the whole way through, and yet she’s got a whole country simply falling to its knees to support her.
The plot was really choppy and inconsistent as well, with things falling into place for Cat left and right at the most opportune moments. (Much like the characters.) I’ll try not to spoil anything, but it basically alternated between either being ultra-predictable or completely illogical.
Now, I thought at first that the writing style was simply lackluster and that I could read past it, but as I went on, it became annoying. Severely annoying.
Yes, most of it is just very meh, and I attempted to ignore it, but one thing that kept getting me was the dialogue tags. You do not simply say that someone “queried” when they’re asking a question. It’s like walking into Mordor, but not half as cool. (Bad Lord of the Rings joke, I know.) That aside, those kinds of dialogue tags were an irritating distraction – some of them even felt like the author had just reached for a thesaurus every time a new dialogue tag was needed. And while I think the thesaurus is one of humanity’s greatest inventions, I don’t think it should be used like that for writing novels and murdering readers.
Another complaint: overuse of exclamation points in the most random places. Enough said.
Still another thing was the labeling in place of a pronoun. I get that a writer wouldn’t want to use “he” every single time a character was referred to, but calling that character “the teenager” is enough to make me throw a book across the room. Maybe it’s just me, but ugh.
All of these combined to make up a writing style that read petulantly, almost like that of a middle grade novel with a truly cringe-worthy protagonist. It certainly didn’t read like YA, not even a little.
And that “truly cringe-worthy” label unfortunately applies to the whole of this book. I’m sorry but not sorry, and leaning closer to “not sorry” with every second that goes by. There’s my verdict for you. *bangs gavel*