We should all know better than to judge a book by its cover, but when I saw The Sky is Yours in my NetGalley menu, with the neon dragons in the ouroboros pattern against a brick wall backdrop, I was instantly intrigued. The premise only further cemented my interest, and I was lucky enough to get a review copy.
Author: Chandler Klang Smith
My GoodReads rating: 4 stars
Average GoodReads rating: 3.53
Language scaling: C2
Summary: A estranged betrothed couple and a feral girl try to make sense of their lives in a post-apocalyptic New York, which ends up having city-wide ramifications.
Content warning: It’s a borderline anarchic apocalypse so there’s low-key brutal violence throughout that doesn’t happen entirely off page, plus some sex scenes here and there.
Recommended audience: Science fiction fans, 19th century novel of manners fans
In-depth thoughts: Sometimes I read a book and even if it’s not entirely my cup of tea, I stand in awe of the craftsmanship. So it is with The Sky is Yours. Smith’s world building is par excellence and the way she incorporates elements of our present and past is seamless and, of course, entirely plausible. Small things like: one character happens to find a book of poetry by her father and notes in the copyright page that it was “print on demand.” Her immediate thought is that he must have been a writer of incredible renown, to have his book so constantly in demand. Or another character suffering “affluenza” that needs the occasional administrations of an inhaler.
What kept me from rating it any higher is how much of it there is. Smith includes a lot of asides and multiple perspectives, which results in a complex and gritty world that feels very real, even though there are a pair of dragons flying around and laying waste to New York City. The multiple voices are handled deftly, so that you can always tell which character with you’re with. It’s an altogether big project and Smith pulls it off well. Nothing wrong with any of that.
On the other hand, much of it doesn’t serve the plot in any significant way. I don’t think plot should be the be-all, end-all of novels, but there’s a fine line between complexity and getting lost in yourself. There are bits and asides here and there that mostly seem to be written for the sake of a gag or two, and whether the payoff is worth it will always be a subjective issue. Not all of the characters Smith chooses to develop in their own chapters are interesting enough to warrant the attention, either. (Spoiler alert: some of them end up dead pretty quickly, so there’s not much point in getting to know them.)
Serious students of writing will be interested in the pineapple-on-pizza quality of genre mash-up at work here: post-apocalyptic dystopia plus classic novel of manners sounds like it wouldn’t work, but it does—and well, at that. Sci fi fans and 19th century literature fans might well enjoy it, to the extent they feel The Sky is Yours draws on their respective genres. EFL readers might want to approach with caution: there is a combination of faux-archaic English, portmanteaus, in-jokes, and puns that forms the bedrock of the book, so I would only recommend it for fairly advanced speakers.