Marie Lu? The author who nurtured the deeply flawed but compelling Adelina Amouteru? And the one who brought to life the tenacious, rainbow-haired hacker Emika Chen? Yes, yes and yes. She’s also now the one who planted the seedling of Talin Kanami, our protagonist of Skyhunter in the world.
SKYHUNTER by Marie Lu
Genre(s): Science Fiction | Age: YA
Series: Skyhunter #1
Published: 29 September 2020 | Read: 24 May 2021
No. of Pages: 371
Click here to view Trigger Warnings ▼Violence, Death, Human experimentation/mutilation, racism, grief, trauma
In a world broken by war, a team of young warriors is willing to sacrifice everything to save what they love.
The Karensa Federation has conquered a dozen countries, leaving Mara as one of the last free nations in the world. Refugees flee to its borders to escape a fate worse than death—transformation into mutant war beasts known as Ghosts, creatures the Federation then sends to attack Mara.
The legendary Strikers, Mara’s elite fighting force, are trained to stop them. But as the number of Ghosts grows and Karensa closes in, defeat seems inevitable.
Still, one Striker refuses to give up hope.
Robbed of her voice and home, Talin Kanami knows firsthand the brutality of the Federation. Their cruelty forced her and her mother to seek asylum in a country that considers their people repugnant. She finds comfort only with a handful of fellow Strikers who have pledged their lives to one another and who are determined to push Karensa back at all costs.
When a mysterious prisoner is brought from the front, Talin senses there’s more to him than meets the eye. Is he a spy from the Federation? Or could he be the weapon that will save them all?
Skyhunter is the start of a new sci-fi duology set in a world where the Karensa Federation is unforgiving and brutal in its territorial conquests, Talin Kanami’s country was not exempt from this surge and now she belongs to the legendary Strikers, the fighting force of the last free nation in the world: Mara. Defeat seems on the horizon what with the Karensa Federation’s deadly weapons from human experimentation, but Talin clings on to hope, especially when a mysterious prisoner enters their path.
At the core of every Marie Lu book, driving it along, making it stick to our hearts, are the characters she crafts, and Talin our main character was no exception. First off, Marie Lu writes diverse characters no doubt about it, and I especially want to appreciate the mutism rep in this book. It serves to give reason for the blatant prejudices Talin faces bravely, but more importantly, (to me though as a non own-voices reader) carries so much hope and empowerment that even given this circumstance, you can rise up, and that your story matters. Talin’s been stripped of her voice and her home literally, despite working her way through the ranks and becoming a Striker, risking her life for Mara, she’s still regarded with disgust and shunned for losing her voice and her status as a refugee. And yet Talin keeps her chin up, and allows hope and love to burn inside of her. She holds a deep love for her fellow Strikers and her mother, forgive me if you will, but these kind of genuine friendships and familial relationships always make me emotional, and hence I resonated so much with Talin. Talin struggled with her identity, struggled with her loyalty, and I thought that this characterisation was made even more poignant with Marie Lu slowly unveiling the details from her past.
You have taken advantage of my silence in every way, robbed me of my dignity and my pride. You have used me for your own gain. Now, in your hour of greatest need, you will use me again. And yet, I will still risk my life to save yours. I swore and oath to this country on the day I donned this coat, to protect you and every other citizen from harm so long as there is breath in my body.
You may call Talin cliche, or that all these strong, tenacious female main characters are typical of YA fantasy… But I urge you to reconsider. Talin and many other characters are all embodiments of hope and goodness despite dark times, and isn’t it why we read these books? (at least for me) It’s a reminder that no matter what, we should always choose good and always choose hope. Marie Lu illustrates this beautifully with it as a core theme in Skyhunter. Talin’s grace in choosing to save those who shamed her, her compassion in giving second chances… Skyhunter is truly a story I took to heart.
“Because my mother taught me that, in spite of everything, I must choose goodness.”
However, that being said, not everything in Skyhunter was rainbows and sunshine. (though can we take a second to appreciate the art on the cover??) Marie Lu creates this sci-fi world with deadly, piercing precision. We have a power hungry nation, merciless in its exploits of humans not simply through killing, but the downright ghastly experimentation of them. We have another, constantly on edge, barely held together, not exempt from its share of suffering, with obvious social class difference between the refugees, the ordinary citizens and the aristocrats. It’s a harsh world, and it’s exacerbated by the clashes between the two nations. The violence and brutality, as well as how people suffer are irreversibly scarred because of it, was fleshed out evoking such a great sense of poignancy and injustice in me.
You first shoot a war criminal in the back. And then they tell you to kill a soldier who is innocent. And then they tell you to kill a civilian, and then a young girl. And you realize that if you keep agreeing, it will keep spiraling down, down, down, until you’ve killed your own soul.
One random nuance I had when reading Skyhunter, was that about the role of class difference. To be honest, though it has been and is a realistic issue, I’ve grown bored of class difference as an impetus and glaring feature of countless dystopian worlds. And I thought that the way it was utilised in Skyhunter was rather brilliant. Marie Lu expertly crafts it such that it is ingrained in Mara, but not outright blatant, but insidious and you’re keenly aware of its existence through the nature of the characters. Instead of the repetitive “down with class structure!” so many books employ, here we have an interesting situation with the class system challenging the loyalties and planting insecurities in Talin, as well as adding a bit of morally grey element.
Okay, as of now let’s see components of a Marie Lu book: A resonant main character? Check. Some immaculate world-building? Double Check. Heartfelt and hard-hitting themes she infuses into the story? Yes. And of course, how could I forget the adrenaline-packed plot and the killer ending that is trademark Marie Lu? Skyhunter was a real ride, I gobbled it up in a few hours and I’m not being hyperbolic when I proclaim that there was non-stop action. Whether it be emotional and vulnerable scenes we go through with the characters in facing the horrors of their past, or simply kick-ass fight scenes, or aka every single word, Marie Lu writes with that kind of tension that simply hooks you in and refuses to let go. Another thing that refuses to let go, of my heart this time, would be the side characters. I echo Abby’s sentiments: WHERE IS and HOW CAN I JOIN THE #ProtectRed&HisMouseSquad? Ugh Red owns 90% of my heart at this point, with the other 10% being my disgust at the Federation. But anyway, the “more than meets the eye” trope was executed so well, and Red’s pain was manifested so heartbreakingly which truly added so much depth to the story. Please take care of him Marie Lu, though I have many doubts about my plea being answered from all her previous books. Adena and Jeran I feel added a lot of their own emotion to the story, and I just love this squad ahhh.
Sometimes a crime is an act of heroism.
Skyhunter is a solid YA science fiction novel, a testament to Marie Lu’s incredible storytelling, brutal but also brimming with hope. If you’re in for a plot that screams action and tension, as well as many resonant characters, then please pick this one up and suffer with me till book 2: Steelstriker comes out!
Conquering people is easy, you break past their defenses, seize their cities, burn their world to the ground. To annihilate us, though, is impossible. a seed will survive. I am not done. I will not forget.