Book Review – Skyward

Cover image for SkywardSkyward

by Brandon Sanderson

Young Adult

Spensa has known all her life that she wants to be a starfighter pilot for the Defiant Defense Force, protecting her people from the deadly and mysterious aliens called the Krell. She wants nothing more than to be in the sky, proving her courage, and maybe even getting a glimpse of the stars. But her father was a coward who fled from combat, and the Defiant Defense Force is reluctant to let the daughter of a coward join their ranks. Spensa will have to use all her courage, determination, and skill to protect her planet, restore her family’s honor, and maybe, just maybe, turn the tide of the war.

If you asked me to find you an example of everything Young Adult fiction should be, I’d point you to this book. It’s like the heart and soul of YA: a book that balances the coolness and likable characters of middle grade fiction with the high stakes of adult fiction, while also having the particular brand of defiance, and that spark of humor, that makes YA special:

“You watch yourself,” I said, wishing I had something to stand on to bring my eyes on level with his. “When you are broken and mourning your fall from grace, I will consume your shadow in my own, and laugh at your misery.”

This quote brings me to the main reason I loved this book: Spensa herself. She’s a treasure, and one of my favorite protagonists I’ve ever read. She works well with others (most of the time, anyway), tries to protect everyone, and also has a slight tendency to deliver ridiculous threats with a completely straight face. I also appreciated that although she seemed to be developing an interest in one of the other main characters, she didn’t have any romantic subplot in this book. Instead, she focused on staving off the alien invasion, which is what any good main character should do first.

And Spensa isn’t the only lovable character here. From her wise grandmother who tells her stories of great heroes, to the cadet who objects to the current militaristic system of government, to the brave admiral who would do anything to protect the last stronghold of humanity, virtually every character is interesting and sympathetic. Also, a lot of them are female, so that’s doubly cool.

Fair warning though, some characters do die in this book. Their deaths were handled with appropriate gravity, and I found myself missing them for some time afterward. It wasn’t like The Hunger Games, where pretty much everyone dies (that might have been a spoiler in 2011, but I don’t think it counts as a spoiler in 2019), but it still makes the story sadder, and the stakes more real.

Despite the tragedy though, Skyward was (like I mentioned earlier) also a lot of fun. Brandon Sanderson says this is an “A Girl and Her Starfighter” story, in the same vein as the “A Boy and His Dragon” genre. Which it is! Spensa befriends a cool AI starfighter, who is everything you could want an AI starfighter to be. But even before that, the descriptions of the aerial battles in regular starfighters are exhilarating, carefully described and imagined. It’s clear just how much Spensa loves flying, and even with all the dangers fighting aliens entails, it’s easy to feel the excitement too.

I highly recommend that you read Skyward. It’s brilliant.

Very small footnote:
One thing to keep in mind before diving into this wonderful, wonderful story, however: it’s scheduled to be a four book series, and only the first one is out right now. Thankfully this book doesn’t end on a major cliffhanger, but still, waiting for the next one is going to be tough. So if you read Skyward now, be prepared for the frustration of waiting for the sequel!

– Reviewed by Amri Valencia


Caught up in Blackberry Bramble: Herbal Music, Art, and Magic

My “Blackberry Bramble” illustration is now complete. Yes, the melody notated is playable, one that Blackberry shared when I became entangled in this mischievous, merry, and medicinally and nutritionally potent plant! Blackberries are high in flavanoids, notably anthocyanins, which are high in antioxidants and help lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation.

Blackberry Bramble - Illustration
Blackberry Bramble – Illustration and Melody by Jane Valencia. Gouache and pen & in.

One of this herb’s super-powers is Astringency, the ability to tonify and tighten tissues, thus reducing or stopping unwanted release of fluids. The leaf as a poultice (don’t include the prickles/”thorns”!) or a very strong tea can help stop bleeding, and is helpful as a wash in any weepy skin condition.  Decoction of the roots can help slow diarrhea when that function has ceased to be useful to one’s body (such as clearing pathogens and allergens).

This is just a very short glimpse of the power of Blackberry. Of course much of Blackerry’s magic are this plant’s gifts of delicious berries, which reignite our wild child nature, leading us into adventure and feasting amidst the beauty and bounty of summer! Next time you’re involved with Blackberry (such as cutting back the brambles or attemping to remove the whole plant), I encourage you to take a moment to appreciate this plant, to consider ways you’ve enjoyed Blackberry.

Consider its ways of growing and thriving. What can we learn from Blackberry’s ways? What benefits from Blackberry’s presence (birds, insects, companion plants? Who do you notice?). What does Blackberry tell us about the land and ecology in which it grows? Blackberries can be deemed and experienced as invasive, but what is that expression telling us about the land and our human involvement with it? How might we listen, observe, mindfully work with the soil and the plants to restore a balance? In our society most of us don’t know beneficial stewardship practices, so take restoration slowly, mindfully — starting from a place of respect for all life, for all of nature, and for us humans as nature, interwoven.

Journaling Himalayan Blackberry - photo
Journaling Himalayan Blackberry – photo by Jane Valencia

Join Me at the Pacific Women’s Herbal Conference

Dear Friends,

The Pacific Women’s Herbal Conference is a magical gathering of women and girls of all ages. For a whole weekend (and longer, if you wish to attend the amazing pre-conference workshops) you can explore the wonderful, welcoming world of the plants and their medicine, and receive the medicine of one another with laughter, dancing, delicious food and nourishing infusions, heart-connecting song, and women’s wisdom —  all in a beautiful forest and shore location on Vashon Island. The Conference takes place on Sept. 20~22, 2019.

As a nature instructor, I happen to work at this location every week, and let me assure you, this 400 acre location (Camp Sealth) is a place where magic happens. Perhaps Eagle sings overhead, or Otter lets you glimpse him heading to the beach, or Deer bask in the moonlight. Perhaps the trees lean in to whisper a message especially for you. Perhaps you find a wishing stone, a listening stone, or feel the mist rising off the Salish Sea to welcome you into your ocean nature.  This enchantment and more opens to those who come together with intention, loving hearts, curiosity, playfulness, generosity, and gratitude. And that is what the Pacific Women’s Herbal Conference brings together from start to finish.

Here are the workshops I’m teaching:

Jane Valencia with the small dragon, Wings

Hildegard of Bingen’s Herbal Energetics for the Family Herbalist

The medicine of Hildegard of Bingen,12th century German physician, visionary, abbess, author, and saint, relied on an understanding of our bodies as gardens, and the work of healing as tending a garden In this introduction to a practical, compassionate, nature-based healing practice, we’ll adventure in the basics of herbal energetics to better support our family members and ourselves.

Tree Secrets: A Walk into a Pacific Northwest Ogham

In the early medieval Irish Ogham, or “tree alphabet,” each letter embodies a particular tree or plant  spirit. In this Celtic-infused workshop we’ll pass time in the company of trees, both those named in the Ogham and our native trees. We’ll explore firsthand their energy, teachings, folklore, and medicine uses by way of our senses and connection, and begin creating our own Pacific Northwest ogham. If the trees are willing, we’ll even craft ogham sticks. Expect sweet enchantment and deep wild wisdom!

As an herbalist and practitioner of what she calls “Deer Medicine Ways,” Jane Valencia loves welcoming women and girls into the magic of the green world that surrounds us. Through forest and garden learning adventures, writings, and illustration, she helps the herbal curious to get down and dirty getting to know the plants and their healing ways and to discover what the plants reveal about our truest nature. An instructor with the Vashon Wilderness Program, Jane is the creator/ mentor of VWP’s herbal girls camps. Sacred plant medicine and traditional Western herbalism are her well-spring. Jane is author-illustrator of Paloma and Wings: a Kids Herbal Comic.

Find out more about about Jane’s herbal and healing ways offerings, including writings on her blog, please visit:

Go here to find out more about the Pacific Women’s Herbal Conference.


I hope to see you there!

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