Top critical review
Not as strong as the previous instalments
15 October 2018
While I did enjoy reading Skycircus on the whole, I did also feel as though it was the weakest instalment of the series to date. The story this time focuses on the concept of the hybrids, which had been touched upon in previous novels but never truly explored. It explored the public conception of these "half mechanicals", as well as the benefits of the technology. In doing so, the novel carried a nice message concerning accepting people different to you and not fearing things that are different. This was all delivered in a very neat way that did not feel too heavy-handed or difficult for a young reader to understand.
Yet the novel still felt as though it was lacking something. While the centrepiece of the circus set this novel apart from its previous instalments, it caused the series to loose a little of its charm. There is less focus on the steampunky Victoriana this time around, as the story is almost entirely set within the sinister circus. For me, this was a bit of a shame. The setting of the previous stories is what made them stand out. Skycircus unfortunately seemed a bit more generic.
It's hard to put a finger on why this book did not really do it for me but I think my problem is two-fold. First was the pacing. While previous instalments both offered some kind of mystery, this was oddly lacking in Skycircus. Due to this, the novel felt as though it moved in fits and starts. Between the intriguing start and exciting finale, the plot slowed to a crawl and I found that it did not really keep my attention.
My second issue was the weakness in the story's science. While I accept this is a personal issue, I found that it was harder for me to "buy into" the world building of this novel. While I could accept the existence of an artificial heart, a girl that could fly with metal-feathered wings due to her "light bones" stretched my plausibility a bit far. In a novel that name drops such great minds as Nikola Tesla, Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley, I wished that more time had been spent introducing their contributions to science, literature and women's rights to the young readers. It felt a bit like Bunzl took the most outlandish parts of their beliefs and left out the truly interesting stuff.
I also felt as though the novel wrapped up all loose ends a bit too neatly. The climax of this story felt a bit rushed, especially as Lily came to terms with everything that happened with remarkable speed. I do not know if this book is intended to be the final instalment of the series but it certainly felt like it. All threads were tied off without conflict, leaving very few obvious hooks for a future novel.
In terms of character, I also felt that the book had a few problems. The novel introduced a large number of new characters but did not take the time to develop them. Lily befriended the other hybrids very quickly and dispelled the distrust between them and the ordinary folks with even more ease. The villains of the piece failed to make much of an impression. The mastermind did not really appear enough to make an impression, while the more direct baddies were purely motivated by greed.
The protagonists also did not fair very well. Robert did not get a lot of development in this story, as his arc seems to have culminated in Moonlocket. However, I will admit that Lily does do a little better. While she was sidelined a bit in Moonlocket, this time she does get more time to confront her feelings towards her cogheart. The novel does explore this in detail, addressing her weariness and encouraging her to fight for what she believed in. I especially liked the way that the novel used a somewhat adapted version of the tale of Icarus to explore this, turning it into a story about picking yourself up whenever you fall and always trying again.
Anyhow, I think that about sums it up. While Skycircus had some nice moments, it was still my least favourite instalment in the series to date. The pacing felt weaker this time around, I missed the Victoriana and the new characters did not get enough time to shine. I'm not sure if this is going to be the last book in the series, but I'm no longer in such a great hurry to find out.