Full Spoiler Review: Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

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Cytonic, the third book in Brandon Sanderson’s Cytoverse series, released on November 23. The adventures of Spensa Nightshade and her AI companion M-Bot continue into the unknown. After becoming the DDF’s top pilot and learning to be a spy, Spensa is now trying to return home by navigating the Nowhere and all its secrets.

In addition to the Cytoverse novels, there are three novellas focusing on Skyward team members. They tell the story of events happening while Spensa is separated from the team. The first two, Sunreach and ReDawn, are already published. The third, Evershore, comes out December 28th. Currently, they are only available in eBook and audio formats, but a combined print edition is in the works for 2022. The stories are meant to be parallels, and don’t cover the same events. Thus readers can read them before or after Cytonic without spoilers. Book 4 in the series, Defiant, should be out late 2022.

Checking in from Beta Flight is Deana Whitney, callsign: Braid and co-pilot Paige Vest, callsign: Blade. If you haven’t finished Cytonic yet, check out our non-spoiler thoughts and reactions to the book in our earlier review here. If you are ready to dive into full spoilers, let us continue into the Nowhere together…

Cytonic follows the five-part structure Sanderson has established in prior books. Part one is a flurry of action, fighting, and possible confusion. Part two establishes the quest that provides Spensa with direction in her new surroundings, along with some visuals for imaginative landscaping. M-Bot discovers cacti and the advantages of arms—delightful. During part three, the action slows while meaningful character moments take center stage. High-flying action and momentum picks up again in part four, along with the arrival of someone completely unexpected. Spensa and M-Bot hurl themselves towards the story’s conclusion in part five. For the final conclusion to this tale, readers will need to wait for book four to fully wrap up the story.

Last warning: Stop reading now if you don’t want more details. Return after enjoying the book at your own speed.

Map of the Nowhere. Dragonsteel, copyright 2021

The illustrations in Cytonic are beautiful. Isaac Stewart and team did a wonderful job. We wanted to highlight the map of the Nowhere, above. In fine fantasy tradition, it informs readers about where the action happens. The plot is driven by a quest—The Path of Elders. Each step takes Spensa deeper into the Nowhere, a place that robs her of time and any sense of urgency. There are strong elements of being in a kind of never-never land, where nothing changes and time does not matter. The pacing of Cytonic occasionally feels inconsistent, possibly as a way to reinforce Spensa’s loss of temporal awareness.

So, first things first! M-Bot is fixed practically the moment he enters Nowhere. He’s back to normal in barely a blink. Sanderson hinted at this with M-Bot’s next-to-last words in Starsight (“My thoughts… they’re speeding up?”), so our collective worries about him were relieved in early chapters. The key conflict between M-Bot and Spensa stems from her choice to leave him behind. M-Bot grows to become more than his code, while processing her reasons for leaving him behind. The extra trauma of him losing his thought speed in Starsight feels unnecessary in hindsight to Braid. However, the transfer into the cleaning droid body was completely necessary for the story—M-Bot was able to grow in ways his ship form would have prevented. Blade was ecstatic that his “mental” processes seemed back to normal right away. Plus, his ability to dart off to wherever he wants to go, whenever he wants to go there, gives him an autonomy he didn’t possess before. (He does need to learn some decorum when it comes to having heart-to-heart talks in inappropriate situations, though, I’ll say that much…)

Spensa meets Chet Starfinder early in the action. His over-the-top entrance riding a dinosaur sets a tone for the character. He feels exaggerated, a bit like a cartoon, for much of the book. The reveal of his memory loss helps explain his personality. If all you have left are stories, why not make yourself into mix of Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Phileas Fogg from Around the World in Eighty Days? The final reveal of his connections to the Delvers explains his odd behaviors even further.

Along the path, Spensa joins another team of characters—PIRATES!—who she is destined to leave behind. The mix of species is rich and shows great imagination when it comes to worldbuilding. Thank goodness for universal translators, otherwise the communication and connection would not be possible. Yet, with this being the third time we’re meeting a new team, knowing the goal is for Spensa to leave again—it is hard to bond with the new characters. Peg, leader of the Broadsider pirates, is the best developed and feels original. Her reactions are never the expected ones. She has her own goals inside the Nowhere and possesses the drive to pull them off. Many of the other pirates act as contrasts to the representatives of their species that Spensa has already encountered, complicating her assumptions. They are interesting in their own ways, but never become as dynamic to readers as Spensa’s previous teams. There is just not enough time for them in the story.

The beta team highly recommends that readers be familiar with the short story “Defending Elysium” before reading Cytonic: It will impact your appreciation and possible understanding of the book’s climax. As we’ve mentioned in our prior book reviews for the Cytoverse, familiarity with the story has functioned as more of an Easter egg. For this story, it is very relevant. For those who haven’t read it, however, the the climax will evoke emotions independent of your understanding of this plot point. And once again, as soon as the book ends, the strong desire for the next book sets in…

Next up, here are the answers to our context-free reactions:

Braid:

Lucy you got some splainin to do !!!!
—Hesho appearing again. Nothing in Starsight made me think he wasn’t dead for real. Still not sure how I feel, since it reduced the stakes of the first Delver fight—only redshirts died.

Well this is unexpected and unnerving.
—The reveal of Doomslug as her father’s pin and being angry about being buried. Poor little Doomslug, Spensa thinking she was back home the whole time, but no—shoved in a pocket, then buried for half the book.

There better be a fix or I will say not nice things. If not, I’m going to go full Samuel L. Jackson.
—When the Delvers took over Hesho, after just getting him back!

Idk, might be less terrifying than a zombie dinosaur.
—This was in reaction to Spensa saying, “I’d rather not be surprised by a group of zombie chipmunks.”

Blade:

Oh, that’s not disconcerting at ALL.
—This was from Spensa seeing the female burl with her face melting. MELTING. That’s some horror movie action right there.

Idk how people can say Brandon can’t write funny. I think he’s pretty damn good at it.
—This reaction stemmed from a couple of bits, both involving M-Bot, who’s trying to rate his success at acting like a human. First: “Spensa,” M-Bot said, hovering along beside me, “I am not enthused by my first experiments in self-determination. My chronometer details that since my awakening, I’ve spent a frightening amount of my time lost, pouting, or being chased by interdimensional monsters.” And second: “Well,” M-Bot said, “you don’t need to rate this rescue on a scale. I figure it’s pretty much pass/fail, right?”

This is a great visual, I can easily envision this in my mind. Fairly alarming, too.
—This was in response to the fragment that they were standing on breaking apart, with nothing but apparent infinity below them.

Well, that’s just not going to work. Unacceptable.
—Chet telling Spensa the way back might take months or years. I do not want to be away from Skyward Flight that long.

***

Braid: Let’s dig deeper into our personal thoughts on the book. As I said in the non-spoiler article, I do appreciate the richness of the species and environments Sanderson brought into the Nowhere. It showed a little bit of everything sliced out of the Somewhere universe—though floating platforms and floating cities seem a visual he’s in love with, considering how often he uses them. The fan artists should have a field day with this book. Using platforms like battering rams was unexpected. Yet if you are going to have floating islands, why not?

Blade: I loved the worldbuilding in this book. We’ve got a little of this, a little of that… There were a lot of fragments of the Somewhere that gave us new landscapes and ecosystems that we haven’t been able to experience yet in the series. At least, not prior to the beta read. We’ve definitely had otherworld experiences with the Skyward novellas like ReDawn!

Braid: The mechanism of not needing to eat or drink is fascinating. It makes the logistics of living there much simpler. When I think about how babies might develop there with no nutrition, my brain starts to break a bit. Removing that need shared by all living things added to the strangeness of the Delver’s home.

Blade: It definitely solved the problem of how Spensa would obtain sustenance on this new adventure. No Grubhub in the Nowhere. Light bulb! Nobody in the Nowhere needs sustenance. Problem solved! I mean, it feels like a bit of frozen time, so it’s not terribly unusual to think that the people there are kind of frozen in a time bubble.

Braid: While I was greatly disappointed that the burl Gul’zah was not a factor in the story, I loved what we learned about the Tenasi from Peg. The soul bond with the tree, the untranslated words, different sayings, all showed Sanderson has thought deeply about these cultures. Makes the overall world feel larger, as a good author should.
Yet, I do wish the romanticization of earth pirates from European history was less pervasive. In Starsight, it was drilled into readers how dangerous humans can be to the universe. As though humans were the only truly dangerous species, with a strong hold on cultural influence.

Blade: The stories about humans are crazy in these books. Like they’re rabid animals, or something. From the stories the Broadsiders’ human, Maksim, told, they really were treated like animals. As strange as Maksim’s life is in the Nowhere, it’s got to be better than having masters who kept him as a pet.

I loved the pirate stuff. It was a lot of fun for Spensa, at least, with her love of adventurous stories.

Braid: Oh, do I want Maksim and Quirk to have a conversion. Fingers crossed. And speaking of meet-ups…in honor of all the shippers, I loved the brief interactions Spensa and Jorgen were able to enjoy. Astral projection flirting was cute.

Blade: OH MY GOD, so cute. They were adorable. And I can’t wait to get these two back together! These interludes were a balm to my soul. Spensa has been gone so long and I felt like she had no anchor to home, to Jorgen. But Brandon gave us just that in this book.

Braid: Right? For the first time all the interludes were fun to read. Now, what was less of a joy to read was the climax. M-Bot!!!!! For the second time at the end of the book, I’m crying and worried about M-Bot. Curse you, Sanderson. M-Bot’s growth as a character was a highlight of the book for me. “I need a cactus break” is my new catchphrase. Learning you can forgive, but still be mad at the person shows the complexity of emotions. In Starsight, he kept asking “Am I alive?” He answered his question in Cytonic and showed us he is both alive and virtuous.

Blade: Oh, poor M-Bot. During that scene I kept thinking, “No…Spensa is not going to leave him there. Not again. She’s got to get him, she’s got to take him home!” I was so upset and yeah, I cried, too.

M-Bot struggling to come to grips with Spensa leaving him behind in Starsight is a big part of his journey in this book. He does get there, hence his willingness to become bait for the Delvers in order to give Spensa the chance to escape the Nowhere.

Braid: Throughout the book, Spensa talked about the hero’s journey after the battle. How did the hero adjust to regular life? She’s grown up from the spitfire readers met back in Skyward. Her time with the Superiority renegades and the Broadsiders has expanded her awareness of life’s complexities. This maturity helped her in dealing with amnesiac Hesho and the Delvers for vastly different reasons.

Blade: Spensa did a lot of growing in the past two books, and I’m glad that she finally came clean with the Broadsiders instead of keeping them at arm’s length. Not only did that show some maturity on her part, but it helped them with their own situation, too. They were able to secure the base and get the upper hand against the Superiority, which makes you wanna just whoop and holler, am I right? And I loved that Spensa found a way to not only change the Delvers, but to make them fear her. Because they fear change and what’s being human if not changing now and again, right? Growing, changing, maturing…our little Spensa has really come a long way from that girl hunting rats in the caverns of Detritus.

Braid: Indeed. Her dad would be happy with how her sights have risen and expanded. Speaking of…the promise of the map is fulfilled via the Path of Elders. Learning more about the Delvers was expected. The twist was set up well, though the full history caught me off guard.

Blade: It was cool seeing the history. I’m looking forward to listening to this book once it’s released. The audio is great and I think these scenes will be fantastic as read by Suzi Jackson. The side quests were great fun and gave Spensa the knowledge she needed to attain her ultimate goal of escaping the Nowhere to return to her people.

Now, of course, we have Winzik, Brade, and the Superiority to deal with. But with new allies, and new skills, anything is possible.

Braid: Ugh. Winzik. If I never hear his “my, my” again, I’ll be happy.

One frustration I had with this book was a serious lack of Doomslug. Readers thinking she might be safe back home, but no. Non-humanoid cytonic beings are the reality icon magical ash-making beings. I don’t know what to do with this information. Then she was all tired at the end. Hugs, Doomslug!

Also, the progression of the story felt as if it had stalled out several times. Spensa kept having to spend time on side quests to move forward. Can’t fly off with a new ship until becoming champion and taking over a base. These moments provided fun action to read, but at times I just wanted to speed the journey along to get back home.

Blade: I wanted to get back home, too. And was so worried about what Brade and Winzik were up to. But I felt that Spensa needed to go on this journey in order to be mature enough to handle taking the war to the next level.

Braid: This book ends with Spensa, finally, with Jorgen and back on Detirus. Something is going on with the uniform shift and I am looking forward to finding out what that means. Her time in the Nowhere gave her the knowledge to better fight against the Delvers. The Superiority, however, remains a threat—one I don’t think she’s fully equipped to fight. After Skyward, I thought the “happy ending” for the humans would be to get a platform operational, then jump away to a new world. That’s not a viable option anymore. The Superiority is too widespread. Since it can’t be escaped, it must be taken over. I am curious to see how Sanderson pulls that off in one book.

Blade: *singsong voice* I know what the uniform means. (I mean, so do you, but I guess we can’t spoil that yet, huh?)

Braid: Shhh…I’m pretending. It’s a secret for now.

Blade: I think that Spensa is ready to take on Winzik and Brade and the Superiority. She’s lean and mean and ready to rumble. Not only is she ready, but the rest of Defiant will be ready. I’m a little wobbly on the thing with the uniform change but I think it will work out in the long run. (Grrr, I want to talk about it! Okay, I’m calm.) One thing I am concerned about is how Spensa is going to get M-Bot back. Because she HAS TO GET HIM BACK. He’s her sidekick and she needs her sidekick. You hear me, Brandon? *sniffles*… She’s gonna get him back, right?

Braid: Sniffles here too. I sure hope so, the Delvers aren’t finished, nor is the Superiority.

Overall, I liked the journey Sanderson took us on during this book, even with its touch of middle-book syndrome. I really, really want the final part now. Meanwhile I’ll enjoy the adventure and the speculating about what will happen next.

Blade: I loved this book. There was adventure, there were side quests, there were boss battles—and then the final, heart-stopping boss battle. At least, my heart stopped. And pounded. And mourned a bit. And rejoiced! And then, at long last, Spensa was home, with Jorgen. I’m a happy little reader!

Braid: Let’s hope there are many happy readers! Let us know what you thought of Cytonic, and while waiting one more year for the epic conclusion, share your favorite scene or species from the Cytoverse below…

Beta Flight signing off for now.

Brandon Sanderson’s Cytonic is published by Delacorte Press.
Read an excerpt here.

Paige Vest, callsign Blade, resides in New Mexico, of course. She works full-time, goes to school full-time, beta reads part-time, mods/admins 3 Stormlight-themed Facebook groups part-time, and writes part-time. She wishes sleep wasn’t necessary because there’s just too storming much to do! Links to her other writing are available in her profile.

Deana Whitney, callsign Braid, is a Sanderson Beta reader, a Doomslug fan, a historian, a cook, and an avid reader. Known as Braid_Tug on Tor, she shared some recipes in her Cosmere Cuisine articles. She added some David Bowie to her growing Cytoverse playlist.

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