In Retro Review: Skythane

A solid science fiction tale that has two opposites finding themselves working together to save a world.

Skythane by J. Scott Coatsworth

Published by Dreamspinner Press on February 17, 2017. Paperback of 293 pages at $14.99. 

The cover: Anne Cain is responsible for this cover art which features a very fit nude man, who’s lower regions are covered by the title and a bent leg, who happens to have angel wings. Behind him is a night sky full of stars. In the upper left and lower right are star maps, while below the title of the book is a planet with light seeming to be blasting out of its north pole. I know this is a science fiction tale, so I’m find with characters that have wings. That said, this is a fairly generic cover, that has the focus on the model. The reason the model has the focus is that Dreamspinner Press is “International publishers of quality gay romance fiction since 2007.” Knowing that, the focus makes sense. Overall grade: B+

The premise: From the back cover, “Jameson Havercamp, a psyche from a conservative religious colony, has come to Oberon — unique among the Common Worlds — in search of a rare substance called pith. He’s guided through the wilds on his quest by Xander Kinnson, a handsome, cocky skythane with a troubled past. Neither knows that Oberon is facing imminent destruction. Even as the world starts to fall apart around them, they have no idea what’s coming — or the bond that will develop between them as they race to avert a cataclysm. Together, they will journey to uncover the secrets of this strange and singular world, even as it takes them beyond the bounds of reality itself to discover what truly binds them together.” Strangers that come together on a quest is a solid premise for a book. Having this as a science fiction story has me interested. Overall grade: A

The characters: Beyond what the back of the book says about Jameson Havercamp, he’s definitely a fish out of water in this story, thinking he’s been hired for one thing and finds out it’s for another. Additionally, he learns that everything he thought about himself is wrong. He changes the most as a character in this book and it was believable. I like that he makes mistakes; the reader learns about this universe primarily for what he does and sees. Xander is the rebel of the characters, dark hair and matching dark wings. Jaded by his past, which is recounted through memories, it’s understandable why he can’t trust anyone but himself. He, too, changes quite a bit as the book progresses. Quince is a female skythane who appears early in the book and reveals much to the two men. She was the one character who I would have liked to have seen exit the book early. Any possible question that Jameson or Xander has she can answer, and she does. The biggest threat to the book would have been her loss, as then the characters would have to discover things for themselves rather than have her piecemeal information to the leads. I was surprised that the boys didn’t just sit down with her, during the quiet times in the wilds, and have her reveal all that she knows. She was the information dump character of the novel and was a weak link. I had all intention of not liking the child Morgan, who shows up in the wilds and exhibits some unique traits. He, too, seems to know more than he’s saying, but I really grew to like the character and was enormously pleased with what the character ultimately did. Morgan is the character that belongs solidly in a science fiction tale and he was enjoyable. There are other characters that are encountered throughout the novel trying to hinder the characters on their always expanding quest. The villain, who I’ll leave unnamed, was very cool, as were the minions working for this individual. My only ding on the grade of this category is Quince knowing everything. Overall grade: B

The settings: The planet Oberon is a good science fiction world. It opens in a heavy industrial section, where the lower one is to the ground the more harsh life becomes and the dangers increase. I liked the opening description of Xander’s apartment, set in better part of Oberon City. It was just futuristic enough to be fanciful, but not wholly unbelievable. When the story moves to the sleezier Slander (which is a fantastic name for a rundown section of the world) the descriptions are just as good. The technology isn’t as strong and the seedier citizens live and work there. It, too, was good. I liked that Coatsworth didn’t stay in this industrial and urban setting, moving the characters into the unpredictability of the Wilds, which is basically the woods. At this location the elements and fauna can be a threat, which Jameson discovers. Where the characters go next is a surprise, but fits seamlessly into this tale. I would love to see more of this location, which is definitely a possibility since a sequel to this book has come out recently. Overall grade: A

The action: Author Coastworth doesn’t waste anytime with long information dumps, as something always interrupts a telling or whenever a character makes a discovery. Initially this bothered me, but, once I was caught up in the story, I was surprised each time them occurred. Being pursued by a group of gangsters in the Wilds, the threat of death from gunfire or by native creatures is always present. The threats become greater when imminent destruction is revealed coming from the skies. Also good is the threats are always changing, as the final location of the book introduces several other threats. Coatsworth was strong with the action. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: Things wrap up well, with the evolving quest expanding greatly. More time could have been spent in the final setting, but that’s just me wanting to continue the story. The ending is satisfactory. Overall grade: A-

The final line: A solid science fiction tale that has two opposites finding themselves working together to save a world. There is some romance in this book, but it’s not the major element of the novel. I enjoyed the leads and the settings enough to want a sequel. Coatsworth keeps the story going a solid pace to a satisfying conclusion. Overall grade: A-

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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