The first book in the Tellus World series
By Lucy Saxon
Available now from Bloomsbury
Nineteen-year-old Lucy Saxon's debut novel TAKE BACK THE SKIES wears its influences on its sleeve, but that doesn't stop it from being a fast-paced adventure with a surprising ending.
Protagonist Cat disguises herself as a boy and runs away to escape an arranged marriage to a true boor. She hides on an airship headed out of the country. From there, it doesn't take her long to realize that her own country isn't actually fighting an overseas war. So why, exactly, are ever more children being conscripted for the army? It is up to Cat to rally the smugglers and use her knowledge of the country's upper class to find the answers and effect change.
TAKE BACK THE SKIES has some serious worldbuilding issues. The world's technology is pretty inconsistent. There are mecha and electronic locks, but there appear to be no cars and people carry around money purses that are snatched by orphan pickpockets like something out of a Victorian novel. Every time a bit of technology was mentioned I would abruptly remember that the story wasn't set in a quasi-18th century world. Then there's the fact that the ersatz war seems far too preposterous to have lasted seven years. Why would anyone believe that thirteen year olds were needed for the army? Especially when they seem to stop recruiting before eighteen. What sort of war would make an eighteen year old too old? There are no efforts to explain this.
At the same time, I really enjoyed the story. TAKE BACK THE SKIES moves quickly enough that you can turn off your brain and go with the flow. Cat is an appealing protagonist. I liked her insistence that she could pull her own weight and take care of herself, even when I rolled my eyes at her saying that life with her neglectful father was as bad as Fox's life as a poor orphan. Fox, the love interest, struck me as generic, but he didn't do anything to make me dislike him. (The romance, sadly, takes a turn for the worse when the obligatory love triangle rears its head.) The other four members of the crew were easy to remember, even if they didn't get much character depth. (And I appreciated the inclusion of a gay couple. Or I assume we were meant to assume that they're a gay couple.)
I'm not sure how I feel about the ending of TAKE BACK THE SKIES. I felt like it undermined some of the themes of the story. The blurb promises that there are five more books in Tellus world to come, but they are non-linear and explore other parts of the world. I do hope they address some of the fallout of Cat's final decisions. It's generally an unsatisfying ending for the character, even if it is a satisfying ending for the story.
I feel like TAKE BACK THE SKIES could've really been special with a bit more attention to how the world actually operated and a bit less attention on the bog-standard romance. At the same time, I really liked Cat and was swept along by the plot. It's a fine first novel.