If you ever grew up in the 90’s and early 2000’s like I have, you might also look at fighter-jet/plane action movies like “Top Gun”, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” or even a bad Michael Bay film like “Pearl Harbor” the same way I do. They are fun and seem like okay films, but there comes certain times where you want to see yourself in a jet or fighter plane like an action hero. With “Top Gun” I remember the video game more than the movie, since it focused more on interactions with characters rather than dogfights.
In Cori McCarthy’s “Breaking Sky”, it feels more like a futuristic “Top Gun” if the setting and characters were more interesting. Is it a good young adult book though, as well as a good thrill for literary thrill-seekers?
In the far future, it is the Second Cold War (technically aren’t we in one right now?) and America is in an isolated stalemate with Ri Xiong Di, a fascist political faction that has taken over all of Southeast Asia and turned it into a new superpower. Complete with highly technological drones and blocking all trade via threats of war, even Canada has ceased communication with its nearest ally. To hopefully win WWIII in the near-future and level the playing field, the US military created the latest and fastest experimental jets called the ‘Streakers’.
However, to pilot a Streaker jet, the pilot must be in both physical and mental top shape, and be able to fully comprehend the speed of this weapon capable of ending wars. One of those is our main character named Chase ‘Nyx’ Harcourt, a thrill-seeking female maverick who is nervous with the trials coming up to prove that the Streaker jets are capable warplanes. To help her out are her co-pilot codenamed Pippin (as in Merry and Pippin XD) and her class rival (the other Streaker pilot) codenamed Sylph.
Suddenly, Nyx’s focus is shaken as she discovers Tristan ‘Arrow’ Router, another hotshot pilot like her who happens to be the pilot of a secret third Streaker (this one built by the Canadians). At first, both do not like each other, with Nyx wanting to best him as the better pilot and Tristan wanting to just be easy-going allies. But sooner than you can say, “I feel the need…the need for speed!” Nyx and Tristan are forced into a conflict that could test their limits and their loyalties in the midst of an upcoming war between America’s Western allies and the perilous Ri Xiong Di’s growing empire.
For a stand-alone novel, the story in this causes the average reader feel like they’ve gone through a rush. Not only does “Breaking Sky” make you to feel like you’ve read an epic trilogy in only 400 pages, but it also provides a very interesting take on the idea of an isolated America. Granted, I wish it could’ve been explored more and given us a more in-depth look into the setting (at least, compared to other futuristic novels I’ve read like Marie Lu’s “Legend” trilogy), but the author does make up for it by providing interesting characters with interesting histories and personalities.
Nyx is at first glance a typical hotshot with an ego towards speed, but you slowly begin to understand the drive and meaning of her personality. She isn’t just a young girl who wants to have great thrills, but she’s also snarky, a tempered teenager, almost like she’s trying to speed away from her past. This makes a good character and helps her brilliantly evolve as the story progresses. I hate it whenever a novel has a character that is selfish and has huge pride in himself (*cough, cough* Catcher in the Rye *cough*), and it really helps that Nyx does learn to trust others and transforms outside of that architype.
Tristan ‘Arrow’ Router and the RIOs are good characters as well. There’s something about the aggressive camaraderie that feels like a mixture of boot camp and the school in “RWBY”. Everyone is so casual, so tense and easygoing as a war could happen any moment, yet they have casual small talk and laugh at each other’s antics like it’s just…a regular school. We have jocks, we have popular girls, we have hipsters, we have a strange instructor, and we even have a closeted student whose identity I dare will not say.
Cori McCarthy is a beautiful and thrilling writer who gives a narration and personality to even the slightest sentence, much like the awesome Marie Lu. Every snarky comeback, every movement, and every vague description leaves the reader wanting more and become engrossed into the plot. Unlike “Top Gun”, it keeps us interested in the action-packed plot while letting us learn to like and love the characters and their dilemmas. I can’t honestly say much other than to go read it and that I want to read more, but as always that is a good complaint.
Packed with intense dogfights that go faster than Mach 3, “Breaking Sky” is a wonderfully intense novel that will hopefully become a beloved in many YA collections. If Cori McCarthy is reading this, I hope you continue to write science fiction like this! I cannot get enough!
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