Over the fall of 2021, three novellas in the Cytoverse were released, co-authored by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson. The stories mostly happen between the second book in the main series, Starsight, and the third book, Cytonic, which also released this fall. Rather than being told from Spensa’s point of view like the main series, the novellas explore three different viewpoints, and give us some background information on happenings that Spensa isn’t privy to. Each novella is read by Suzy Jackson, who also reads the primary series. Below are my thoughts on each novella, which I read after finishing Cytonic. Note: It’s not necessary to read these novellas to get the gist of their content for Cytonic – this is the best kind of novella, filling in gaps that enrich the story for those who want more, while not being strictly necessary to follow the main story!
I’ll be honest. I didn’t remember the narrator of this volume at all. Her name is Freya (callsign FM), and at first, I thought she was a new-to-me character. I also didn’t remember the engineer, Rig, who was a fairly important character. Both of these characters – as well as the rest of Skyward Flight, Spensa’s original flight team – were important in the first book, which I read in 2018. If they were in the second book, it would have been minimal, and they definitely weren’t in the third other than perhaps by brief mention. It annoyed me, not the novella itself, but me not remembering these characters. Made me itch to go back and revisit the first few books in the series! I pressed through, though, and eventually made a few vague memory connections. The story didn’t need me to remember much, anyway.
As for the story itself, I enjoyed it. I particularly liked FM’s relationship with the Taynix (special alien slugs), and the way she went about trying to advocate for them as creatures rather than tools. That kind of care for animals holds a special place in my heart. The rest of the story was interesting, and other than trying to figure out another character I didn’t remember (or mis-remembered, so that I expected her to be a traitor the entire time), it was easy to follow. The only thing that felt weird was the extra emphasis on silly romance tropes. Sanderson has romance in his books, but it tends to sit outside the norm of silly YA cliches. This one didn’t, and I imagine that was more Patterson’s influence. I could definitely tell the book was not purely Sanderson’s!
I began this book almost immediately after Sunreach, so I didn’t have nearly so much trouble with remembering happenings or figuring out which characters were who. That made this book a much more enjoyable experience, which says a lot, given that I already enjoyed the first one. The big difference for me was the absence of typical romance tropes. That was much appreciated! I also loved seeing just how much of an animal-rights activist FM is becoming, even more than in the last volume. And bonus: the world-building was phenomenal and wildly imaginative. I need to seek out some fan art of ReDawn (the planet)! One negative note: This ended on a major cliffhanger, so I’m glad I waited until all three novellas were released before beginning them. Definitely going to dive right into Evershore!
Again, I really liked this one! There was a lot of emphasis on grief, stress, trauma – the things that affected characters after the sudden end of the previous volume. Jorgen is the narrator this time, and technically this book is not between Starsight and Cytonic, but sort of simultaneous with Cytonic. (Actually, there’s a part of Cytonic at the end that I want to go back and revisit because I think it’ll make more sense to me now, with this novella read.) The humans have intercepted a broadcast from the Kitsen, a species of fox-gerbil-like creatures who have had many interactions with Spensa in the main trilogy. I love the Kitsen so much. Ironically, given that Spensa and her violent boasting personality bothered me so much in the beginning of this series, I love the violent boasting personalities of so many of the Kitsen. They remind me a lot of Spensa, and while she has yet to meet a particular Kitsen, Goru (no idea how to actually spell it as it’s not available in print yet!), I think they’ll get along splendidly. Either that, or they’ll butt heads badly. Ha!
The only thing that bothered me about this novella was that it devolved into a very long battle scene for the last quarter of the book. I was enjoying the break from battle scenes in this installment, learning about Kitsen culture and Jorgen’s connection to cytonics. Quiet things. Less frenzy. I’m in the minority on that, though – most people really like the more fast-paced starship-fighter-battle stuff a lot. I guess I just felt a little exhausted through that part, and missed the more quiet bits. Still, it was well-written, and I enjoyed Evershore as a whole. Perhaps I wouldn’t have felt quite like this had I not read all three novellas back to back?
My thoughts on the trio in general: Other than the romance bits of the first novella, I hardly noticed this was a collaboration. Sanderson and Patterson worked well together, and these novellas all had that same sense of humor, timing, and empathy that I see through most of Sanderson’s work. I also thought the trio brought a lot of the world of the main series to life in a way that couldn’t happen just under Spensa’s point of view. This was a really good way to enrich the world-building. I loved reading them back to back (despite my fatigue at the end of Evershore), and happy to continue to have Suzy Jackson’s narration, as she does such an excellent job of voicing all these different kinds of characters!