I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith
Published by Hogarth on January 23 2018
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
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The nitty-gritty: A big, bold, and chaotic futuristic story where the absurd is commonplace, dragons patrol the skies, and everyone has a chance at redemption.
Grub and Morsel told me on another occasion that one day soon, Duluth will take them to touch a dragon–it seems this is a coming-of-age ritual in this savage locale. At a certain age, boys climb the water tank upon the roof of the Wedge, the tallest building in Torchtown, to skim their hand along the underside of a sky lizard when one passes just above. The scales feel like giant fingernails, living plastic, featherbones; no two stories quite agree. Sometimes it takes many nights for a dragon to swoop down close enough. Sometimes one comes too close, or its breath does, and manhood is over before it can begin.
I knew when I was only 100 pages into this book that it would end up being a favorite this year, and I was right. I can’t tell you how excited I am to have read The Sky is Yours, although I guess that’s the point of writing a review, to tell people how excited you are! This is a very strange book, and I suspect you’re either going to be on board for this story or you’re not. But sometimes books touch you on an emotional level that’s hard to explain, and this is that book for me. Some reviewers are going to argue that the characters are horrid and unlikable (they are); other reviewers will mention that the plot is a bit convoluted (it sort of is) and some might be disappointed that this isn’t really a story about dragons (the dragons are part of the story but yep, this isn’t really about them). So why did I love it? I think for me it was a perfect storm of elements that came together in just the right way, an odd combination of future tech (flying cars, “People Machines” and more) and old-fashioned, Jane Austen-like mannerisms.
The story takes place in the crumbling, apocalyptic city of Empire Island, where fifty years earlier the skies were taken over by the sudden appearance of two flying dragons. Since then, the people of the city have lived in fear of the dragons, who circle overhead non-stop, spitting fire on the structures below them. This has resulted in a city filled with charred buildings and a dim, smoky atmosphere. The story begins with the impending arranged wedding between Duncan Humphrey Ripple V and the young and very naive Baroness Swan Lenore Dahlberg. Swanny and her mother Pippi arrive at the Ripple mansion to prepare for the ceremony, but meanwhile, Duncan has crash-landed his HowFly in a garbage dump, fallen in lust with a homeless waif named Abby and brought her home with him. When Swanny happens upon Abby while exploring the mansion (and realizes that Duncan has been having sex with her), she understands on some level that this is her life now, and she needs to accept it. After all, she is going to be rich.
But the wedding reception is interrupted by a home invasion of the worst kind: “Torchies” with chainsaws have broken into the mansion (despite Humphrey Ripple’s expensive and private security system) and are on a rampage to kill everyone in sight, grab the family jewels and get the hell out. In the chaos, everyone in the mansion scatters, and so begin the adventures of Ripple, Swanny, Abby and the rest.
OK, I have to get something out of the way. The dragons are not a big part of this story. Or rather, they are constantly there in the background, and they are certainly the reason that everyone is living in a burnt-out, apocalyptic city, but this story is really all about the characters. My favorite part of Emerald Island was probably Torchtown, a walled-in city-within-a-city where criminals are dumped, to live out their lives behind the walls. A drug kingpin named Sharkey was born in Torchtown and grew up to be the most feared man in town, making his own drug called “chaw” and peddling it to the denizens of Torchtown. Sharkey was the one character who really didn’t have any redeeming qualities. He’s simply a horrible person, and when Swanny (unwisely) enters his orbit, his controlling personality made me want to go after him with a chainsaw. Alas, poor Swanny doesn’t always make the best choices.
In fact, most of the characters in this story make terrible choices at one time or another. There’s Duncan Ripple, who, despite the fact that he’s signed a marriage contract with Swanny, brazenly picks up a girl and brings her home to the mansion (on the day of his wedding!); Abby, the girl in question, who blindly proclaims her love for Ripple and follows him away from the only home she’s ever known; Pippi, Swanny’s mother, who agrees to the marriage, consigning her daughter to life with the sex-crazed Ripple; Katya and Humphrey, Ripple’s parents, who—well, I can’t even tell you the terrible mistake that they make! Then there’s uncle Osmond, confined to a wheelchair after a terrible accident, who simply sits in his chair and observes everyone else’s horrible mistakes. Yes, this book has a big cast of characters. And I haven’t even mentioned Trank, Duluth, or Hooligan (the apehound)!
Did I mention this book is funny as hell? Well, it is. I laughed my way through most of it, but it was an uncomfortable kind of laughter, when the humor is black and you know you’re really not supposed to be laughing. One of the funniest scenes was the marriage ceremony, which I’d love to quote in full, but it’s just too long. Here’s a snippet:
“A marriage is a mutation, the artificial merging of discrete elements from nature that turn monstrous when combined. But we would not be human if we did not summon monsters into our midst. Today, young Duncan will devour the baroness whole, and he will die of her poison.”
Just when you think there isn’t possibly anything else that the author could possibly think up, she throws in another side story at the end that (dare I say it) made me love Ripple just a little. What I loved about this story is that each character is on their own journey, making their own mistakes and learning their own lessons. At the end, Abby finally realizes her purpose in life, and not only was I surprised and delighted with the way her story line plays out, but I loved the way the story comes full circle and ties everything up.
One thing’s for sure. I have never read anything quite like The Sky is Yours. Chandler Klang Smith—in lovely, pristine prose, I might add—has created a world and characters that still haunt me, and I know I’ll be mulling over this story for a long time. For discerning readers who aren’t afraid to read something completely outside the box, you should not miss this book.
Big thanks to Goodreads and the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.