L.A. Weatherly’s Broken Sky: Lady Pilots and Other Great Things

Last week saw L.A. Weatherly (also known as Lee Weatherly) visit Easons for an evening of book talk and Q&A for her tour with her latest novel, Broken Sky. Having had the most hectic week, I sat down on the day of the event and didn’t move from my chair for two hours until I’d flown through 500 pages of sheer wonderful bliss. Broken Sky is a YA book written in a genre known as dieselpunk (Similar to steampunk, but where steampunk is futuristic Victorian, dieselpunk is futuristic interwar-1950s-era) that has film noir undertones (or overtones, depending on how familiar you are with film noir to begin with).

Sometimes I love the circumstances in which a book happens to land in your hands. In this case, the impending L.A. Weatherly event prompted me to sit down with Broken Sky. Initially, I intended to read it for the sole purpose of knowing was Lee would be talking about. I hadn’t heard much about Broken Sky at all and I had not read Lee’s Angel series either, but as soon as I’d read the prologue I was sold. Broken Sky is the story of Peacefighter pilot Amity Vancour, set in futuristic 1940s. America is split into separate countries, and it has been 100 years since the last war. Peacefighters are pilots from opposing countries who battle against each other with the sole aim of taking the other plane down. Whoever wins the fight wins the dispute between the countries. Amity is sullen, cynical and haunted by the memories of her late father and of life before he died. She became a Peacefighter to make him proud, and believes in the cause they are fighting for. With the reappearance of Collie, her childhood best friend and only love, it soon becomes apparent that the cause they are all fighting for may not be as it seems.

There are several things I love about Broken Sky:

  1. Lady pilots: Nobody questions the existence of female pilots. Men and women play poker and drink beers together on their downtime, and they see each other as pilots first and their genders second. There is absolutely nothing strange about getting changed in front of other males and nobody is subjected to sexual advances or unwanted stares. It’s an unwritten, yet brilliant rule. Not only that, there is no stereotyped ‘way’ a pilot should be. Amity’s friend, housemate and fellow Peacefighter Vera is described as setting her pin curls under her pilot’s helmet as she flies, while it is implied that Amity doesn’t focus too much on her appearance. At no stage is it stated or even indirectly implied that there is an element of superiority among the female pilots – makeup or not, hair well done or not, they are all pilots. Amity and her friends can go from flying to going out drinking and dancing – all the outfits the girls wear are a distinct nod to 1940’s fashion at the time. There is nothing more than a hint of misogyny in the entire book, which is wonderful and rather refreshing. Although not overtly feminist, the inclusion of tiny details about each of the female characters and of the general attitudes to them as pilots shows that Broken Sky is indeed feminist by nature. This is the second book I’ve read in the last few months that featured a lady pilot and although totally different books, I am really loving that there are at least two authors in the world who considered female characters ideal candidates for flying planes.
  2. Setting: As mentioned, its dieselpunk. I’ve read very few (If any) dieselpunk novels and so I was really excited to see the parallels Lee made to real-life America and a futuristic, dystopian landscape.I love World War II history  (I probably don’t need to clarify, but I will: I love the technology and the way jobs were created and generally learning about terrible people in the hopes that we never repeat said history, but I absolutely despise the fact that millions of people had to die for no good reason) and so seeing elements of world war history peppered throughout the book The antagonist in the book shows some really clear parallels to the fascist regime, although rather than randomly discriminating against a group of people based on religion, the villains in Broken Sky choose to send people off to correction camps based on – wait for it – star signs. Which brings me to my next point:
  3. Astrology: I hate astrology. I hate anything that implies people have static personality traits based on when they were born (and that includes the Meyers-Briggs Type Inventory, which is astrology for psychologists). It ignores the fundamental fact that personality is not designed solely by birth (or planetary alignments), but rather developed and shaped by environment, which has been proven time and time again in twin studies (Even if someone is born with a trait it cannot necessarily develop without the right environment, which is just not predictable by planetary alignments) Broken Sky examines not just the idea of how something becomes popular without any merit, but also the terrifying concept of how quickly people will believe things that are presented to them without any factual basis, or the presence of the entire story. Lee said herself that the idea of using astrology to predict whether a person was good or bad was entirely random and the brain child of a mad man, and yet we see every single day that ideas are presented by the media and we take them at face value. I’m fond of a conspiracy theory or two, but sometimes it scares me just how readily we will believe something en-masse without concrete evidence. Despite my hatred of astrology and baseless opinions fed to those who are ready to believe anything they’re told, I adored this particular plot device in Broken Sky as it was, shockingly, easy to believe in a world where astrology was used as a scientific tool.
  4. Amity and Collie’s Relationship: It was beautifully written. All too frequently one reads books with relationships that are set out as ‘the ideal’, but realistically the characters don’t have any chemistry and you’re left wondering if emotional blackmail or clear emotional dependence on another person is the only thing two people can have in common with each other. In the case of Amity and Collie, they were beautifully written. Lee focused on the little details, the tiny gestures and showed rather than told that they were very much in love. While reading I could picture clearly the way Collie looked at Amity and their feelings for one and other were almost tangible. I tend to shy away from romances (Mostly for the reasons above, but also because they can tend to be very unrealistic) but there was nothing I disliked about Amity and Collie.
  5. Amity herself: She’s cold, she’s guarded. She’s blunt and sometimes tactless. She’s the kind of person that makes you hide your face in your hands because oh my God did you really just say that would be a sentence that would run through your mind with alarming frequency around her. However, there’s no point in the story where I felt that the ‘I’m not like other girls’ trope was being forced upon Amity – rather, she was embraced for who she was and had a number of friends who adored her and didn’t seem to find her tactlessness a source of contention. She didn’t change who she was when Collie returned – he too embraced her for who she was.

All in all, Broken Sky was a beautiful little gem to have fall into my lap last week, and I am extremely excited for the next book in the series which is set to hit the shelves in August. If you haven’t picked it up yet, I’d strongly recommend setting it somewhere near the top of your TBR pile. It’s worth it, trust me. (Plus, if you get a chance to attend one of her events, Lee herself is a fabulous lady to chat to!)

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