The Sky: The World takes place in an alternative history of the early 1800’s in which an enigmatic person named Doctor Azaz has given humanity progress beyond that of it’s own time period. Locked up in his ivory tower and having no interaction with the outside world, he still commands an almost God-like presence over the world. Azaz has created birthing pools in which fertile women bathe in to be born with the perfect children. Child-bearing through normal means is largely a thing of the past. The most famous of Azaz’s gifts to humanity is aviation. Jack and Toby Racine are two of London’s most famous pilots, and both are triaps: children born through regular pro-creation. After Toby dies in a plane crash seemingly caused by flying high, Jack is left to pick up the pieces and cope with his brothers death. Spending his time in women and laudanum, Jack is a man who lives to excess, fearing he is treading the same path as his alcoholic father. When he is recruited by Azaz to fly a top-secret mission, he begins to question what happened with his brother and may even find a way to become a better man.
The book had me hooked rather instantly with the story of the Racine brothers and the different paths they took in life before finally finding their separate paths, together. Toby the good and Jack the scoundrel, the former a proud member of the Royal Air Force; the latter deciding to become a stunt pilot, forming his own flying team known as The Sherwood Six (even though there are only five of them). It started to fall apart for me shortly after all this though.
It is a fun read and moves along at a brisk enough pace but it’s ambitious nature is under-cut by the story’s brevity. The book is full of weighty ideas and multiple characters that should have been fleshed out more (i.e. there is a storyline involving a bit of intrigue with a side character who never actually appears in the novel). The crux of the story, that the world needs Azaz since he gave them progress, is a sentiment the author seems to stand with, even as she has Azaz choose Jack for the mission because of his status as a triap. The moral complexity of whether or not speeding up humanity’s progress beyond it’s natural time frame is never really touched upon. With all the ideas at work, if McHugh had put a bit more time into it expanding the storyline and making a few tweaks, it could have been an epic.
As it stands, it’s a fun read, but just a couple steps short of great.
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