Book Review: Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon

It’s always nice to get a random email with someone offering you free stuff. Especially when it’s free books.

So, when I was contacted by Lucy Saxon’s marketing personages and asked if I’d do a review, I was totally up for it. And, lo and behold, I had a steaming pile of hot literature on my doorstep shortly afterward. Here’s the skinny:

Lucy Saxon wrote Take Back the Skies when she was a wee sixteen year old and Bloomsbury took it up when she was seventeen. She’s now nineteen and the book is finally out there. Good going, Lucy!

So, what’s it about? Set in the world of Tellus, TBtS, is definitely a Steampunk book which tickles all the tropes you’d expect from my beloved genre. There’s a plucky heroine, some airships and experiments and adventures and goggles and dirty-faced engineers and an oppressive government to overthrow. But there are a lot of new ideas here, too. Saxon’s Tellus is made up of a series of islands with violent storm fronts separating them. So, to get where you’re going you have to fly, and through some pretty hefty storms, too. Great idea. Plus, each island is its own nation with its own culture and look, so you get a lot of diversity (set up for later books to explore, no-doubt). So, we have a great setting with some nice fresh ideas to keep hardened Steampunk readers interested.

Then there’s the plot itself. It starts off with a teen-runs-away-from-home arrangement, when Cat, the main character, escapes her oppressive father and stows away on an airship. Cat is soon drafted onto the crew, although they think she’s a boy. Shenanigans ensue.

I won’t tell you too much else in case you want to read it for yourself, but suffice to say a lot of children have been going missing on Cat’s home island of Anglya and they haven’t gone to the seaside. It’s now up to Cat and the crew to find out how, why, and shut those mothers down!

Again, the ideas are great, the setting is certainly one I wish I’d come up with. The description of Tellus is well done and intriguing.

Downside? The story never really had me rocking along, unable to put down, but it’s a very pleasant read. Not every book has to grab you by the collar and headbutt you. Personally, I thought there was an awful lot of blushing. I mean…Cat has no control over her facial capillaries, and the awkward teenage romance has kind of been done to death elsewhere. However, for the YA crowd, this book will be just swell.

Upsides? It has a surprising ending. Which is brilliant. I had a genuine little smile of pleasure on the last page. I found myself nodding and thinking: “Nicely done, Saxon”. It’s a nice easy read to carry around in case of literary emergencies.

So there you go. This book feels a little like the backstory for something yet to come; a book-length prologue that will whet your appetite so that Saxon can slap you in the face with an even better book next time. But that’s no bad thing. Because when the next book comes along, I’m pretty sure all hell will break loose. If you want a nice steady Steampunk read, or if you have coglings who are of YA age, TBtS is for you. I think it’s definitely a series to keep your eye on.

 

Thanks for reading.

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What is YA?

Since hitting the internet hard with the unwanted presence like a stinking corpse on the windshield, I’ve come across hundreds and hundreds of ‘YA authors’. Twitter is especially packed with them:

‘Jenny Bloggs – I love my cats, my crochet class and I’m a YA author’

‘Jeremy Snaggleforth the Third – YA author and nuclear physicist.’

They’re everywhere. What baffled me at first, is what YA is all about. It’s all about demographic: Young Adult. These writers aim their work at readers between the ages of 14 to 18 (with differing reports swinging a couple of years in either direction). There’s always been this niche in the market. Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett are a couple who spring to mind as potential jet-setters. And then, of course, came J.K. Rowling with the Harry Potter novels (mentioning that should generate a few hits mwahahaha). And the YA ‘genre’ exploded. It seems to me that anyone who’s anyone trying to be an author is tuning into the YA bandwidth and cranking the volume.

Now, in case I’m about to sound like a grouch, I want to state that I love it when a new sub-genre comes along, if only because of the nifty names people come up with. I have a weakness for Steampunk, as previous readers may already know. Then there’s Splatterpunk, Bizarro, Supernatural Romance (Bloody Twilight!) and even Cybergoth which I only found out about while researchign this post. The word Cybergoth conjures quite the nightmare image doesn’t it? Terminator meets Gormenghast? What a combo! Anyways, there are hundreds of little subgenres floating around in the briny sea of fiction like plankton.

What bothers me is that YA isn’t a genre, or a subgenre. Despite stating its demographic (useful if you’re submitting to Literary Agents), it’s astoundingly vague. So far, I’ve come across ‘YA authors’ that write sci-fi, romance, fantasy, and a host of other major genres. It’d be impossible to have a YA section in a bookshop. Maybe an entire YA Waterstones would be better. So what’s the point? Well, it’s this: Is YA a bandwagon? Does its vagueness make the term itself defunct? Like saying ‘milk’ out loud a hundred times, does it simply become a sound with no meaning? Apart from generating hits on Twitter, does the term ‘YA’ serve any function at all?

And, since we’re pondering the purpose of things. What’s the point of this post?

I’ll tell you, because I can see you’re fused to your seat in anticipation….

It’s a friendly warning. Coming from a fellow ‘writer’ such as myself, I certainly hope no one is assuming that writing for this age group is easier than any other. It’s harder! Young adults are sharp, insiteful and have the attention span of a goldfish with a traumatic brain injury. For aspiring authors, restricting yourself to a demographic could be a dangerous approach. Think of it this way: No author calls themselves a ‘fantasy’ author or a ‘horror’ author. Those tags are applied by other people. People who own shelves and catalogues. Just write your story. Enjoy writing it. And, if you please, pitch it to the YA audience. But don’t label yourself. Others will be quick enough to do that for you.

Thanks for reading.