Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson
Humanity has been on the losing end of a centuries-long war with the Superiority, the main organization of galactic races, for decades, trapped on a desolate planet called Detritus and fighting an ongoing war using outdated, small spacecraft to keep from being exterminated. In the second book in this series, Starsight, Spensa Nightshade, a young spaceship pilot who first distinguished herself in Skyward, found a way to leave Detritus and travel to Starsight, a massive alien space station where the galactic government is located. Spensa joined the alien space pilot training program at Starsight while spying on the Superiority to try to find a way for humanity to better fight their captors. She also discovered the hyperjumping capabilities of her alien pet Doomslug, as well as the massive and deadly alien life forms called delvers, that can be manipulated to swallow a space station or planet whole and destroy it.
As Starsight ended and hostile alien soldiers were closing in on her, Spensa took a leap, literally, into the unknown: she entered a portal into another dimension, called the “nowhere,” along with her AI sidekick M-Bot. Cytonic (2021), Brandon Sanderson’s third book in the SKYWARD series, begins immediately on the heels of her stepping into this unknown dimension. Spensa hopes to use this portal to make her way back to her home and friends on Detritus, especially the friend for whom she’s developed Feelings. But a single delver encourages Spensa to stay and look for answers to the many questions she has about her own “cytonic” (psychic) abilities, and how she can hone those abilities to help her people.
The friendly delver tells Spensa to walk the Path of Elders, whatever that is, in the nowhere. However, Spensa’s plans are sidelined when she is promptly captured by one of the alien pirate gangs that inhabit the nowhere. Soon enough an energetic, chipper human, who goes by the unlikely name of Chet Starfinder, and even more improbably is riding on a dinosaur, thunders to her rescue. Chet cheerfully joins in Spensa’s plans to find and follow the Path of Elders, and though she is mistrustful of his motives, she needs his help to navigate the unique territory of the nowhere. Perhaps they can steal a starship from one of these ubiquitous pirate gangs?
The nowhere is a mysterious, otherworldly place. Huge fragments of land, each with its own unique climate and landscape, float around in space and occasionally collide with each other. In the nowhere, time and days melt into each other and a person’s memory tends to fade away. Chet seems to be someone whose original personality and memory has been lost, although Spensa thinks she may know who he is. But Spensa begins having trouble keeping her own memory and sense of purpose intact in the nowhere.
For many of its pages, Cytonic feels like a major detour in the overarching plot of this series, albeit a fairly entertaining one: we’re in an entirely new world, with a completely new cast of characters other than Spensa and M-Bot, and on a brand new quest that seems only tangentially related to the missions Spensa had in the prior two books. But Sanderson, of course, has a master plan, and it’s fascinating once a few surprising twists occur, previously hidden information starts to be revealed, and the pieces finally start falling into place.
Cytonic clarifies the link between the SKYWARD series and one of Sanderson’s older stories, Defending Elysium, which takes place centuries earlier, and Sanderson fans will find it worthwhile to check out (or revisit) that novelette, which is available to read on his website. Fans of this series may also be interested in three tie-in novellas/audiobooks that Sanderson has co-written with Janci Patterson: Sunreach, ReDawn and Evershore, which focus on other characters in this series (Freyja, Alanik, and Jorgen). Spensa’s adventures will be concluded in the fourth book in this series, Defiant, scheduled to be published in 2023.