My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars
Length: 284 pages
Release date: 4 September 2018
A Saskwyan flight mechanic with uncanny luck, seventeen-year-old Robin Arianhod grew up in the shadow of a decade-long war. But the skies are stalked by the Coyote—a ruthless Klonn pilot who picks off crippled airships and retreating soldiers. And as the only person to have survived an aerial dance with Saskwya’s greatest scourge, Robin has earned his attention.
As a pilot, Robin is good. But the Coyote is better. When he shoots her down and takes her prisoner, Robin finds herself locked into a new kind of dance. The possibility of genuine affection from a man who should be her enemy has left her with a choice: accept the Coyote’s offer of freedom and romance in exchange for repairing a strange rocket pack that could spell Saskwya’s defeat, but become a traitor to her country. Or betray her own heart and escape. If she takes the rocket pack and flees, she could end the war from the inside.
All she has to do is fly.
Robin had the sudden foreboding sense that the gods had planned something for her, that they were positioning her on a playing board without Robin even knowing she was a part of the game.
You know, The Skylark’s Song apparently had no love interest to begin with, until J.M. Frey’s first agent told her she had to have one. I hope the majority of YA literary agents don’t take that stance, because yeah, this book would have been better without one. Instead we have two, and both of them kind of suck.
Alright, I actually lean towards liking this book, so let me take a step back. First of all we have the steampunk-inspired world. By personal preference I usually stay away from steampunk in favour of medieval-lite fantasies, but it works well here. Per the norm for the genre, I was a little confused at the start in terms of what level of technology people use and how the societies work, especially as Frey dives right into the action and trickles exposition only later on, and only in small portions. This is not the book if you’re looking for elaborate sociopolitical worldbuilding.
The major social aspect of Frey’s society is religion. In a pretty basic premise, two nations are warring over religion. One of them hates everything religion-related and wants to convert its enemies to atheism; the other is steadfastly religious but also internally divided between the monotheistic Benne elite and the polytheistic Sealie working class. Got that? Good, because that’s almost the extent of politics in The Skylark’s Song. I’ll be real, the religion message is kind of in your face, and feels tacked on to a conventional fantasy romance in order to give it superficial contemporary relevance. As you may already have guessed, Frey makes the ‘point’ that religious tolerance is good, lack thereof leading to mass bloodshed over nothing.
On to my favourite part of the book, Robin’s glider piloting skills. I’m still not sure how exactly the Benne gliders work, but wow the flying stuff is cool. I really wish The Skylark’s Song spent longer with Robin in the air. She flies dozens of missions over the course of the novel, but most of them are condensed into a few paragraphs, which is a real pity. Robin as a character feels by far the most alive when she’s in the cockpit–if you give credit to Sealie beliefs, flying is even what she was destined to do.
Now I’m going to return to the romance. It’s not as big a part of the story as the synopsis would have you believe; thankfully, other fun things occupy most of the first half (namely the flying). This romance is all kinds of problematic. I have a high tolerance by YA standards, and it basically toes my line between acceptable and creepy. And by the romance I mean BOTH OF THEM, because obviously nothing is more entertaining to read than having every eligible character head over heels for your protagonist. It’s even better when none of them are particularly great. One guy is the Nice Guy friend who gets annoyed when you say that you like him, just not that way, and the other guy is the creepy stalker you hopefully haven’t had in your life. (There’s also a third minor character who’s probably lusting after the MC, but he’s never considered as bang-worthy material cause he’s kind of a dick.) Yikes.
You may be wondering why I gave this book 3.25 stars, when it’s been forever since I last gave a .25 rating. Well in that case let me point to two things: One, Robin Arianhod being possibly the coolest protagonist name ever. Two, the gorgeous fan art. Like this one by Archia:
Where did this perfection even come from. Even though the redhead is a very nasty character and I’m not a big fan of either of the guys who are the love interests, this art is life.
Yes, I gave an extra quarter star based on a snazzy name and a lovely drawing, and I’m not going to take it back.
Is it time for a campaign to #getRobinArianhodbackintheskies yet?
*Thanks to REUTS Publications and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*