Series: Seraphim #1
Published by Orbit on November 17th 2015
Look at me. This is my stunned face. As in, I could not believe how good this book turned out. Granted, the story was a little slow to take off (sorry, unavoidable pun), but the momentum gradually built up so that everything culminated into one of the most incredible and jaw-droppingly explosive endings I’ve ever read. In fact, if I had to rate this book based on just its second half alone, it would have been an easy 5 stars. But the first half, despite not having the same level of excitement and energy of the second half, was no slouch either. In the first two hundred pages or so, David Dalglish made sure we got plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with the fascinating world of Skyborn. We also got to know our two protagonists, twins Bree and Kael.
Readers take to the skies in this opening to a new series set in a richly imaginative world. Hundreds of years have passed since a disaster wiped out much of humanity, and survivors have established a new society on six floating island kingdoms which are constantly warring with each other. Aerial battles are fought by Seraphim, elite winged soldiers who command the powers of the elements.
The story begins with one such conflict. Bree and Kael’s Seraphim parents are subsequently killed by soldiers from a rival island, but instead of turning away from a life of war, the twins become even more drawn to it. It is their dream to become Seraphim themselves, and at age sixteen, after finding out their elemental attunements, both siblings are accepted into the Seraphim Academy where they will learn how to fight using weapons powered by elemental crystals and fly wearing specialized wings.
But something smelled fishy right from the start. Both Bree and Kael’s attunement tests led to strange results, arousing my suspicion that someone is going to great lengths to make sure the twins become Seraphim. But who would want to push them towards this fate? And why? It’s an irresistible mystery that sticks around for rest of the book, a teasing thread that kept my interest piqued even between all the breathtaking airborne skirmishes and elemental duels.
The book started off slow for me, but if you enjoy academy settings and training school tropes, perhaps you may take to the intro with more ease and speed. This part of the story was rather typical, following the twins as they get settled into their new lives as Seraphim cadets. Bree and Kael are assigned their classes where they make new friends and enemies, and there’s even some romance involved as both siblings meet their respective love interests.
Indeed, I sense the potential for strong YA crossover appeal…but with a wicked edge. Despite the familiar take on “magic school” themes, there are unpredictable plot elements in here that I never would’ve seen coming in a million years–including several dark twists and a couple violent and/or graphic scenes that would make this book less suited for younger audiences.
No matter who you are though, I think you’ll love the twins. The two of them are as different from each other as their attuned elements; hot-headed and impulsive Bree is a prodigy at flying but she’s nonetheless helpless when it comes to controlling her fire, while even-tempered Kael is more balanced in his studies and adept at drawing on his ice affinity. Bree’s brashness might make you feel torn between wanting to throttle her and wanting cheer her on, but it’s clear she takes no crap from anyone, and there’s also no denying she has some of the best scenes. However, Kael is also able to hold his own, balancing his sister’s bold personality with his clear thinking and more inquisitive mind. As dynamic sibling duos go, they make one hell of a team.
As events of the novel ramp up and relations between the islands continue to deteriorate, the plot also becomes increasingly edgy and suspenseful. Around halfway through the book, something huge and unexpected happens, turning one of the twins’ world upside down.
The story took off like a rocket at this point. Unfortunately for me, I was reading Skyborn at night and reached this part right before bedtime. Good bye, sleep! From here on out, this book was impossible to put down. And after I was done, it was another couple of hours before my mind could calm down from that nail-biting, heart-dropping-into-the-pit-of-my-stomach conclusion.
I’m tentatively rating this book 4.5 out of 5 stars for now, but I suspect as time goes by my love for it will only grow. Days after I finished, the heart-pounding aerial sequences are still playing out over and over in my head, and the euphoria from reading this book is not likely to fade away any time soon. These feelings are a bit of a surprise, but I sure wish more novels would shake up my expectations the way this one did.
A unique and refreshing series-opener, Skyborn is a high-flying, whiplash-inducing adventure that took my breath away! What more can I say, other than I await the next installment with no small amount of impatience!
This review originally appeared on The BiblioSanctum.