Skyborn is the second story of the Lost Tribe, and it follows immediately on the heels of Precipice. Actually, that’s not true. Much as Precipice takes place in the midst of Fall of the Sith Empire, Skyborn starts shortly after the beginning of Precipice. The difference here is that Skyborn told through the points of view of Adari Vaal, a native of Kesh, notable as the uvak rider that Yaru Korsin saw during the duel with his brother.
Skyborn has three tasks: to make the reader feel sympathetic toward an individual (something that is rarely entirely necessary in a piece like Precipice, which focuses on the leader of a group), to give a glimpse into Keshiri society, and to advance the story of the series. All of these are done remarkably well within the short ebook.
Adari Vaal is a widow and a mother, but worse than that, she’s a character that doesn’t wish to be sympathetic. She doesn’t miss her husband or feel sorry for his death, and she’s more than happy to let her mother share all of her young children’s special moments as she focuses on her research. No, what makes this character sympathetic is that by indulging in her honest (if slightly heartless) love of knowledge, she’s become a pariah, put on trial by her people for daring to believe that something new can be brought to the surface by volcanic activity belowground. In a society that believes all good was brought about by deities from above, after they had defeated evil creatures from below, this is supreme heresy. In response, somebody who should be a protected citizen- the widow of a member of the ruling class- is left to the mercy of the mob.
All of this is pulled off rather artistically- there are few stories that would paint a character with Vaal’s particular characteristics as much other than a barely tolerable cold-hearted scientist, and few that intended her to be sympathetic that would be willing to give her those characteristics. The fact that John Jackson Miller so seamlessly blends the two is a testament to the care with which these characters are treated- something that particularly important when you’re dealing with such complex individuals as Sith societies tend to produce.
Adari goes on to find herself led to the Sith through their telepathic call. The relatively simple-minded individual, with little interest in cruelty and no knowledge of the Force, is actually made catatonic by the strength of their demands, but Korsin once again proves himself an able leader as he nurses Vaal back to sapience, using her as a tool to learn more about the Keshiri people in time for her to introduce them to one another.
From there, it’s not long to see the Sith do what they do best: take over. They do so bloodlessly, and briefly, and while there is a lot of room to expound upon what the power structure of the Lost Tribe would become, there is also sufficient explanation given to understand the Sith’s new role: on top, above the existing top tier of Keshiri civilization. It certainly wouldn’t do for the Sith to simply take the role of the ruling class and demote them, after all.
Skyborn’s great strength is Adari Vaal, and the look she gives us at the primitive Keshiri culture before they were exposed to the Sith. That is not all there is to this story, but that is what makes it stand out. After reading this, I hope that Vaal returns to the series. She certainly had an inkling of what was to come, and it would be a waste to develop a character like this without her playing some role in the future.
Skyborn is a great follow-up to Precipice, and if anything a climb in quality. We finally have the skeleton of the civilization that the Lost Tribe is shaping up to be, but still with a long road ahead of it. I know that this series won’t follow the same characters for 5,000 years, but I’m curious as to how far it will follow them. Precipice didn’t do that, beyond the immediate concern for the survival of the crew. Skyborn did.