When you set sail in an Abi Elphinstone book there is no looking back; you are swept along on a whirlpool of imagination that will leave you reeling.
This short book, published for World Book Day, is the start of a new series: The Unmapped Chronicles. It takes you into a brilliantly realised world, where all the magic that nourishes the Unmapped Kingdoms, and eventually flows into our world (The Faraway) emanates from a Phoenix. Every five hundred years the Phoenix dies to be replaced by a new Phoenix, but at the start of this story it becomes clear that something has gone terribly wrong with “The Rising”. Dark magic releases nightdaggers which turn the Unmappers in the kingdom of Crackledawn into paralysed shadows, except for one solitary eleven-year-old, on whom the fate of the Unmapped Kingdoms and consequently, The Faraway, now rests…
The unlikely heroine of this tale is Smudge “whose mind had a sideways quality to it”. She is a figure of ridicule at school and doesn’t seem to fit the mould of the Sunraiders and Sunsmiths of her kingdom. She is a character with whom the reader immediately empathises, and in my opinion is destined to become an inspiration for dyslexic children. She does not hesitate to pursue the sinister winged figure that she spotted flying across the moon in place of the Phoenix, and rushes down to the harbour to set sail for Lonecrag to catch the harpy. As she jumps aboard the dhow formerly owned by the legendary explorer Nefarious Flood, she is joined by an enchanted white-faced monkey named Bartholomew, the unexpected hero of the story.
Together they embark on a gripping adventure, featuring sea witches, ogre-eels, rock goblins, silver whales and enchanted forests. Smudge’s friendship with Bartholomew develops as they confront mortal peril. The encouragement that she receives from her simian shipmate enables her to draw on all of her “curiosity, courage and self-belief” in confronting her evil foes.
I adored this book with its message to “believe in the what ifs and the just maybes of the world.” I recommend it to all children of 9 and above, and I cannot wait to read the next installment in the series: Rumblestar.
I would like to make a plea to the publishers to please, please, please re-print this book with a bigger font, ideally open dyslexic, so that it can be easily read by an audience for whom its message will be immensely inspiring.