Vashti Hardy, author of the brilliant Brightstorm and Darkwhispers books, has set the bar incredibly high when it comes to sky-ship adventures. Alex English’s Sky Pirates has sailed to the heights set by Hardy, and Professor Mangrove Daggerwing’s sky-ship is waiting for you to climb on board.
Eleven-year-old Echo has lived a life of privilege. Ever since being taken in as a ward of the King she has been expected to conform to a lifestyle that she finds really doesn’t suit her natural instincts. Expected to be quiet, polite and presentable, Echo much rather be exploring and adventuring but has to make do with running around the castle ramparts and staring out onto the streets below. Longing for her mother, she dreams of venturing beyond the castle and heading off to find someone like her. But this is almost certainly impossible because ever since the Great War the gates to the city of Lockfort have remained firmly closed and the King does not see the need to open them as there is nothing beyond the Barren, except the edge of the world.
When Professor Mangrove Daggerwing appears in an airship at Echo’s window in the middle of the night he opens her eyes to a world full of possibilities. He claims to be from a land beyond the Barren - he is an explorer, an adventurer. Echo isn’t going to turn up the opportunity to see what is really out there. So, armed with the only connection to her mother - a pin in the shape of a wolf’s head - and her pet lizard Gilbert, Echo sets out with the professor on a journey into the unknown.
This is an epic adventure story of sky pirates, a royal stowaway, dangerous escapes, stolen treasures, maps of far off lands, beautiful insects, mechanical objects and the occasional little white lie. Echo’s desire to find out the truth about her past lands her and Prince Horace in lots of close scrapes and sees the need for plenty of quick getaways. The fast-paced action and easy to read narrative will grab the attention of most readers from the very first page.
Echo and Horace are great lead characters and provide the perfect counterbalance to one another. Echo is full of can-do attitude and is a brave and courageous heroine who epitomises the resilience, resourcefulness and risk-taking that is needed when you are determined to find out the truth. Horace really grows as a character throughout the story - from his nervy beginnings and one who is not keen to break the rules, let alone head off exploring, he matures into a character who speaks up for what he believes is right and finds the courage to stand up to the most powerful person of all, the King, his father. Themes of friendship and family are central to the narrative.
It is hard to believe that this is Alex English’s debut book. A cracking steampunk adventure that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read. I am very much looking forward to exploring and adventuring with Echo again soon.
Recommended for 8+.