Kurara has never known any other life than being a servant on board the Midori, but when her party trick of making paper come to life turns out to be a power treasured across the empire, she joins a skyship and its motley crew to become a Crafter. Taught by the gruff but wise Himura, Kurara learns to hunt shikigami – wild paper spirits who are sought after by the Princess. But are these creatures just powerful slaves, or are they beings with their own souls? And can a teenage girl be the one to help them find their voice – and change the course of an empire?
Thank you NetGalley and Walker Books for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.
The world of Rebel Skies is one of steampunk technology, floating cities, and shikigami: great beings made of paper that terrorise the land in their madness. Kurara, the main character, has lived a sheltered life aboard the Midori, a floating station that provides food, rest, and entertainment for travellers, especially soldiers returning from their conquests. She is a Crafter, one of few people with the ability to manipulate paper, shaping it and bringing it to life, but she can only perform her tricks in front of her best friend Haru. When the Midori is attacked by a shikigami dragon, Kurara escapes with Himura, another Crafter, but Haru is not as lucky; to save her friend, Kurara agrees to join Himura and the crew of the sky ship Orihime and train to be a Crafter.
I loved the concept of this story, and the world is certainly fascinating; technology and magic don’t often mingle, but they do so very well in this book. The floating cities are held up entirely by engines, and the only magic is that of the shikigami and the Crafters, mostly forgotten in the depths of history. Only the princess, obsessed with shikigami, has access to all the records and uses them to experiment with the paper monstrosities. Rebel Skies also had a few great twists that took me entirely by surprise, and the mystery of Kurara’s origins had me eagerly turning the pages.
Unfortunately, after the initial concept and the unravelling of a few mysteries, the plot fell a bit flat for me, and I wished things would move a bit faster. I think a lot more could have happened in the story, and the ending had me feeling a little bit like, ‘Oh, is that it?’ There were quite a few repetitive chapters, with one character point of view in particular, and I found myself at one point skimming forward just to find out what the climax might be.
There were a lot of strong characters, strong world-building, and intriguing mysteries, but they weren’t supported entirely by the action and pacing. I think it’s still a worthwhile read, and it is labelled as YA, so perhaps young readers of the teen category will appreciate it more than me. As far as I know this isn’t a series yet, but the ending does suggest there is more to come, and I would probably read the sequel to discover more on the shikigami and the history of the world, but it wouldn’t be a priority for me.
Published: 5th May 2022 by Walker Books
Genre: fantasy, YA
Narration style: third person, multiple points of view
Format read: eARC
Content Warnings: brief mentions of death, and minor body horror