Kurara has few memories of her early life with her friend Haru but their reality now is the Midori, a sky-ship, a floating town with every conceivable luxury provided for its guests. However, the pair can partake of none of this as their lowly positions as workers mean that their days are long and hard, their rations frugal, their treatment harsh. In their scarce free time Kurara amuses them both with her ability to turn paper into objects and animals at will: she is a Crafter.
Himura is a Crafter, too and has been tasked with taking Kurara away from the Midori and to the sky-ship Orihime but she resists his efforts until a giant shikigami -or paper monster- attacks and destroys the Midori and they must flee for their lives in a small, antiquated vessel. When they land in a forest they are attacked by soldiers and as Haru burns to death Kurara discovers to her horror that he, too, was a shikigami. There is only one person who can restore his body, Princess Tsukimi and so Kurura joins the Orihime in order to try and travel to meet her.
There are motives within motives, plots within plots, charlatans and cheats in this complex and cinematic story. Descriptions are many and vivid and strange worlds are compellingly created. The sections dealing with Kurara’s training by Himura in manipulating paper to impress Princess Tsukimi are especially compelling. Characters are larger than life and the plot twists and turns on several levels.
The core of the book is the battle for power between the sky city dwellers and those who live on the ground. Kurara uses her skills to help her new-found friends on the Orihime and the battle scenes are impressive set pieces. When she is imprisoned by the Princess she must fight Imperial Crafters and powerful shikigami to free herself and her friends from the Orihime. They escape with their lives but the Orihime leaves without them and the book ends with the beginning of their next adventure.
Rebel Skies is about so much more than spectacle and conflict. It explores what it is to be human in a world which not always what it seems and examines the nature of friendship and loyalty. It is a long and complex read, clarified by a glossary of terms, but it is a rewarding insight into worlds which seem alien but have many of the preoccupations with which we are all too familiar.