Review: Maggie Blue and the White Crow by Anna Goodall

Cover art by Sandra Dieckmann, published by Guppy Books, 2nd March 2023

This second book in the Maggie Blue trilogy soars with imagination, transporting the reader as seamlessly as the title character between two contrasting worlds . Anna Goodall’s construction of the story is masterful, encouraging the reader to read between the lines and try to piece together the puzzle of Maggie’s purpose and fate. It is labelled as a middle grade book but I would suggest that it is likely to be most enjoyed by children towards the end of Year 6, during the summer between primary and secondary school and during Key Stage 3, when they are of similar age to the child protagonists.

The story begins with Maggie and her school friends languidly passing the summer holidays in the woods or in Aunt Esme’s garden, enduring a stifling heatwave. Despite the intense heat and light, both Maggie and her friend Ida intermittently feel their blood chill when they experience flashbacks to the time spent in the Dark World. Maggie seems blissfully unaware that her every move is being watched by warrior shifters, people from the Dark World who can take on the shape of birds…but what is their intent? And can Maggie’s heightened senses really be unaware that she is needed for a further purpose in a fantasy land that she would rather not revisit?

In the real world, she now feels less of an outsider, having friends to hang out with. However, she is still insecure about her odd family circumstances; living with eccentric Aunt Esme while her mum Cynthia, is incarcerated in a mental hospital and her dad is overseas with his new young girlfriend. Regular tween discussions about holiday plans cause her discomfort and distress because she is not in a position to enjoy overseas vacations. These everyday events become immaterial when a pure white crow arrives in West Minchen, followed soon after by Cynthia who despite being in a distressed state wants to tell Maggie about her background. Without wishing to give away any plot spoilers I will simply say that Maggie is reluctantly hurtled back into the Dark World and the reader is immersed into a land of ruthless ambition, ongoing war, witches and the chillingly ferocious Terrible Ones. The seven ruling families have built a citadel in the Magic Mountains:

a bizarre glittering structure. It shone like madness in the clear light


and somehow Maggie’s fate is dependent on restoring the balance between their urge to destroy and the Great O’s mission to preserve the natural world.

This is an immersive, exciting novel with moments of violent peril balanced with some wryly humorous passages, usually featuring Hoagy the one-eyed cat! With underlying themes of mental health issues and the exploitation of the natural world it is a sophisticated tale which will leave readers desperate to find out whether Maggie will have the ability to reconcile her two worlds in the final instalment. Before I finish this review, I must encourage you to take a close look at the stunning cover art by Sandra Dieckmann which so beautifully depicts the protagonists with whom you will glide through this story.

I am very grateful to Guppy Books and to Liz Scott for sending me a copy of Maggie Blue and the White Crow in advance of publication on 2nd March 2023.

MG Review: Rainbow Grey Battle for the Skies written and illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson

Cover illustration by Laura Ellen Anderson, published by Farshore, 2nd February 2023.

The third and final book in the Rainbow Grey series is an epic final showdown between the good rainbow magic of Ray Grey and the dark, monotone forces of Weather Rogue, Tornadia Twist. Readers will be swept up in the story as easily as a leaf in a hurricane, there is destruction and peril to leave you clinging to the arms of your reading chair, but tempered with the humour, hope and honour that make a perfect read for children of 8 years and above.

Laura Ellen Anderson has written the perfect ending to Ray Grey’s journey from outsider to fully-fledged heroine in a series which introduces readers who are growing in confidence to the delights of following a character through a story arc across multiple books. However, knowing that purchasing books is likely to become a luxury for many families, I particularly applaud the succinct review of previous storylines in the opening chapter. This is so important when children are relying on library or classroom book collections and cannot always obtain books from a series in the correct order. Another great joy of all the Rainbow Grey books is the magnificent artwork on every single page, whether the borders decorated with weather symbols or the half- and full-page pencil illustrations which perfectly complement the energy of the text. The map of Celestia on the opening pages along with the magical descriptions of the setting brings the fantasy setting to life to such an extent that it becomes another character in the story.

Battle for the Skies begins with Ray and her two best friends, Snowden Everfreeze and Droplett Dewbells celebrating Pitter Patter Pancake Day in the canteen of Sky Academy where all the young Weatherlings are educated. Despite the festivities and utterly delicious pancakes, Ray is totally pre-occupied with the threat of Tornadia Twist. However, in an early illustration of her character, she doesn’t hesitate to show kindness to outcast twins Frazzle and Fump, demonstrating empathy in action to young readers, as she recalls her own recent “outsider” status. When the light is suddenly cut accompanied by purple lightning flashes and the destruction of the great sunflower and Sun Citadel, Ray realises that her worst fears have been realised. But even in the darkness there is hope, as the increasingly visible bright star, which embodies her former teacher La Blaze Delight, reminds Ray that she should never give up.

With the unfailing loyalty of her great friends, plus Nim the cloud cat, Coo La La the haughty pigeon who formerly belonged to La Blaze and new-found allies, Ray Grey embarks on her mission to end Tornadia’s quest for ultimate power over the weather. The page-turning action, hilarious meteorological wordplay, weather events which include snot-nados and relentless onslaught of Tornadia’s destructive powers make this a book that young readers will not want to put down. For those who care to examine the deeper layers of meaning, there is a supremely well-crafted message of the power of the natural world and the destructive forces that can be unleashed by the actions of the greedy and power-hungry. As I read of the razing of the sunflower fields and severing of the Cloudimulus Suburbs, I couldn’t help my mind turning to the images we are presented with daily from Ukraine. This is the superpower of great children’s literature, the ability to create empathy by engaging the imagination in an age-appropriate manner.

If you wish to put an immersive, satisfying adventure story into the hands of a reader of 8+, get hold of a copy of Rainbow Grey Battle for the Skies, it will be published on 2nd February 2023 and is available for pre-order from all good bookshops and hopefully can be borrowed from a public library near you!

I am most grateful to Farshore Books and Liz Scott for sending me a review copy ahead of publication.

My review of Rainbow Grey Eye of the Storm can be read here.

MG Review: Drumendus by Andrew Ashwin

Published by The Book Guild, autumn 2021

Drumendus is a fantastically imaginative middle grade, story bursting with musical references which whisks readers on a sci-fi voyage pulsating with sonic energy.

Twelve year old Ella Crinkle is held in higher esteem at her school for being the niece of famous astronauts Belinda and Otto Crinkle than for her musical performances on the trombone. Her relatives were the first humans to set foot on Earth’s sibling planet Drumendus, and now that strange weather events visible on the neighboring planet seem to be altering Earth’s meteorological conditions, her own obsession with Drumendus is growing even more intense. Fortunately, after one final excruciating assembly performance on her trusty brass instrument, the school holidays have arrived and that means the traditional week’s visit to eccentric Aunt Belinda’s home, Racket Lodge, where she will meet up with her best friend Freddie. 

As the two friends explore Belinda’s latest collection of bizarre inventions they find her most ambitious project to date in the greatly extended workshop – a spaceship in the shape of a grand piano, named Hammerklav. Before you can say “Holst’s Planets Suite”, the trio have blasted off through the workshop roof and set off on a mission to find Uncle Otto who was left behind on Belinda Crinkle’s last visit to Drumendus. What follows is a fast-paced, immersive adventure where every detail resonates with sound and music; names of people and places, the arrangement of tree house pods on ropes which resemble musical staves, and even the “sonorance” superpower that Uncle Otto has learnt how to harness to exert power over the native population.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story which I read in two sittings. The combination of the author, Andrew Ashwin’s musical knowledge with a beautifully imagined fantasy planet, a storyline of colonisation and resistance by a brave rebel tribe and some comedy set pieces featuring King Otto’s incompetent senior guards, Treble and Cloff make this a book that will grab the attention of middle grade readers. I can imagine that my own children would have enjoyed this had it been available when they were attending music lessons in primary school and I would encourage primary school teachers and librarians to put Drumendus into the hands of those pupils who enjoy music as well as those who enjoy an exciting fantasy adventure.

The author has a website dedicated to Drumendus available here where you can find out more about the musical inspiration behind the book. I am most grateful to Andrew Ashwin for sending me a copy of Drumendus in exchange for an honest review.

2022 Halloween Recommendations

image created using Canva

As in previous years I have put together a shortlist of books that I have read this year which would make excellent treats for young readers this half-term holiday as we approach Halloween 2022.

Winnie and Wilbur: Winnie’s Best Friend by Valerie Thomas, illustrated by Korky Paul

Always a delight for children of 5-7, the Winnie and Wilbur series are wonderful books to share with a young child. The stories are fun, Winnie is probably the most colourful and accident-prone witch in children’s fiction and there is so much to see and talk about in every one of Korky Paul’s brilliant colour spreads.

Midnight Magic: The Witch Trap by Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Elissa Elwick

Bursting with autumn colour, the latest rhyming adventure of magical black cat, Midnight, is perfect for newly independent readers of 6+.

Diary of an Accidental Witch: Ghostly Getaway by Perdita and Honor Cargill, illustrated by Katie Saunders

In the latest outing for Bea Black, she and her friends take off from Little Spellshire’s School of Extraordinary Arts to participate in a school trip to Cadabra Castle, allegedly haunted by the ghost of High Master Maggitty Crawe! This wonderfully funny story has been designed with extra care to increase accessibility for dyslexic readers.

The October Witches by Jennifer Claessen

Magical, feminist refashioning of the Arthurian legend. A pacy story of witchy family feuds, perfect for readers of 9+.

Ghost Scouts series written and illustrated by Taylor Dolan

A funny, fully illustrated series of books set in a fabulously spooky summer camp, deep in the swamps of the southern states of America. A certain Halloween treat for readers of 9+.

The Mummy’s Curse by M.A. Bennett

Ever wondered about the origins of the curse of King Tut? Well this rollicking time-travel adventure will take you back to the discovery of his tomb, 100 years ago and reveal all. A spine-tingling adventure, perfect for confident readers of 9+

Shadowghast by Thomas Taylor, illustrated by George Ermos

Experience your first Halloween in Eerie-on-Sea with Herbert Lemon and Violet Parma as they uncover the secrets of the spooky seaside town’s Ghastly Night! Fantastically paced and plotted adventure for readers of 9+.

The Haunted Hills by Berlie Doherty, illustrated by Tamsin Rosewell

The wild landscape of the Peak District is the setting for this tale of grief, loss and guilt. As a family’s attempts to recover from a fatal accident is interwoven with the legend of a local ghost. A sensitive, beautifully written story for readers of 11+.

The Billow Maiden by James Dixon, illustrated by Tamsin Rosewell

Another sensitively crafted tale, this is set on a remote Scottish island where a young teen is being sheltered by her uncle and aunt while her mother recovers from what appears to be a mental health crisis. This story is interwoven with the discovery of a terrifying mythical creature in one of the island’s caves. The Norse legend combined with modern setting are perfect for readers of 11+.

Ghostlight by Kenneth Oppel

Boy meets ghost in this brilliantly written and imagined coming of age story, set in and around Toronto. This is a book which will absolutely transport readers of 11+ into an alternative reality where ghosts battle for dominance over humans in a setting which will be unusual and educational for many UK based readers.

#MGReview: The October Witches by Jennifer Claessen

Cover artwork by Heidi Olivia Cannon, published by Uclan Publishing,
1st September 2022

A magical refashioning of the Arthurian legend, this middle grade coming of age story set amongst an unpredictable family of witches is a must for Halloween book selections this year. Narrator, Clemmie is the type of girl to which every reader can relate. She is worried about upcoming exams at school; is desperate to be liked by her slightly older, cool cousin Mirabelle; and clearly loves her family but maybe wishes they could be a bit more normal!

Clemmie shares a crowded, run down house on Pendragon Road with her mum, Patty, Aunts Prudie, Connie and Flissie and cousin Mirabelle and for eleven months of the year life is relatively normal. However, every October the older family members receive their magic and the household goes crazy for a month…and in this, her twelfth October, Clemmie expects to receive her magic and fully become a member of the coven! She joins the rest of the Merlyn family on their night time expedition to the allotted location for magic gathering and gets her first glimpse of their bitter rivals, the Morgan coven, sensing the enmity that exists between the two branches of the witchy world and little knowing the adventure that she will be pulled into.

I won’t describe the plot in any detail for fear of giving away spoilers. Suffice to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative which was pacy, perfectly pitched for readers of 9+ with gripping twists and turns, betrayals, unlikely alliances, peril, a magnificent villain in Aunt Morgan and some arch humour. Author Jennifer Claessen has wonderfully captured the voice of a twelve year old girl for whom bodily changes are causing uncertainty and nervousness and a growing awareness of family secrets causes confusion. Clemmie is a thoroughly engaging character and I rooted for her to gain control of her powers throughout. The relatable family dynamics are brilliantly entwined in a clever take on Arthurian legend, with the thirst for eternal power leading to a dramatic and vivid magical battle.

Although on the surface this is a story about witchy family feuds I felt that there was a deeper truth contained within the narrative; that of the younger generation breaking free of the chaos and mess created by their ancestors and forging a new truth and way of living. If you want a story that demonstrates the power of family loyalty, questions what we mean by magic and is thoroughly entertaining too, then add The October Witches to your Halloween wish list.

I am most grateful to Antonia Wilkinson and Uclan Publishing for sending me a proof copy of The October Witches prior to publication on 1st September 2022.

MG Review: Knight Sir Louis and the Sorcerer of Slime by The Brothers McLeod

Cover image by Greg McLeod, published by Guppy Books, June 2022

Saddle-up for a seriously silly story featuring slime-drones, invasive garden gnomes and a gelatinous monster with a desire for world domination! This third book in the Knight Sir Louis series is guaranteed to cause outbreaks of uncontrollable laughter in middle grade classrooms up and down the land, and don’t worry if you haven’t read the earlier books – there is a handy guide to the characters at the start, so this can absolutely be enjoyed as a standalone story.

And what a cast of characters! Knight Sir Louis is the hero and despite still being a boy he exhibits all the skill, bravery and intelligence of a king’s champion, which is the position we find him in at the start. With his trusty mechanical steed, Clunkalot, and his magical sword, Dave, he manages to fight off an invasion of garden gnomes before breakfast! Unfortunately, King Burt the Not Bad is also not too clever and is rather easily duped by the oleaginous stranger, Squire Lyme, who arrives at Sideways Castle and charms the king with obsequious flattery and a bag of green gummies! Squire Lyme is soon knighted to become Sir Lyme, manages to replace Louis as king’s favourite and sets a slimy and fiendish plot in motion. As Knight Sir Louis embarks on a quest to save the kingdom you’ll meet ogres, witches, a two headed dragon, a slime sorcerer’s apprentice and my favourites; a pair of most unusual librarians who inhabit a LIBRARY SHAPED LIKE A BRAIN! This story is an absolute riot of wacky characters, crazy situations and laugh out loud jokes.

The sibling partnership of Miles (writer) and Greg (illustrator) McLeod has created a hugely enjoyable book to entice a middle-grade readership. Their brand of non-stop action adventure packaged in a highly illustrated style, with very distinctive cartoon-style drawings ensures that their stories are accessible to readers who are not necessarily attracted by long text-heavy books. I think that is it wonderful for upper KS2 classrooms and school libraries to be able to offer this book in their collections, to encourage children to read for sheer joy. Knight Sir Louis is a character that everyone can get behind and root for, he embodies chivalry, never flinching from an unpleasant task and is brilliantly supported by loyal allies throughout. I love the illustrative device of always depicting him with his helmet on so that we never get to see what he looks like, thus every child can imagine themselves as the hero of this story. This is very appropriate as one theme that emerges from the sticky plot is that children are heroes, capable of solving problems and should be listened to rather than dismissed just because of their tender years.

I found so many appealing aspects in Knight Sir Louis and the Sorcerer of Slime that I will be donating my gifted review copy to a local Year 4 classroom where I am sure that it is going to provide many hours of reading enjoyment.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott and Guppy Books for sending me this copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Otherland by Louie Stowell, illustrated by George Ermos

Graphic by @MarySimms72, Cover image by George Ermos, published by Nosy Crow 2021

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Louie Stowell

Illustrator: George Ermos

Publisher: Nosy Crow

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

Myra’s mum honked her red nose, which meant she was indeed interested in some chai, and the adults filed off into the kitchen.

page 11

This book in three words: subversive fairy tale

I missed reading this book when it was first published last year, although I do remember it getting rave reviews at the time. Therefore I was extremely pleased when Otherland was chosen as the Primary School Book Club read for January 2022 and this time around I am thrilled that I had the time to enjoy it. Louie Stowell has created a playfully subversive fairy tale that can be enjoyed by middle grade readers and older (in my case, very much older) readers alike. She plunges you into a fully realised fantasy world, where your expectations are turned on their head in a whirlwind of dark humour and relentless action!

Myra and Rohan are connected by a strange coincidence. They were born on the same day, in the same hospital, and both had to be resuscitated after birth. That is where their similarities cease. Wild and impulsive Myra lives with her larger-than-life mother at the poorer end of town and seems to actively attract trouble, whilst cautious, well-behaved Rohan lives with his perfect family in a quiet, leafy neighbourhood in a well-ordered, predictable style. This doesn’t stop the two families getting together every year to celebrate their joint birthday. As Myra reluctantly accompanies her mother across town to spend her eleventh birthday afternoon with Rohan she considers that:

Standing next to him felt like turning up to school in your dirty pyjamas when everyone else is wearing perfectly ironed white clothes.

page 3

This is such a clever analogy, conjuring up the anxiety dream that so many children experience on the last night of the holidays and giving such an early insight into Myra’s feelings of discomfort and unworthiness. Her feelings of rejection are compounded when she overhears her mother talking to the other adults about the difficulties of starting a business whilst caring for a child.

However, life is about to get exponentially more complicated for Myra. In the chaos generated by the secret stash of fireworks she has brought to the party, Rohan’s adored baby sister, Shilpa, is stolen through a portal to Otherland, a vividly imagined, mildly terrifying fairy kingdom! Here, the wicked fairy queen Gloriana wishes to change Shilpa into a green-skinned, vicious fairy. Rohan and Myra are guided by an exiled fairy, Mab, into the presence of Gloriana where they are inducted into the Knight Game; three fiendishly difficult tasks to accomplish in order to free Shilpa and escape back to the real world. These challenges take place against a backdrop of kaleidoscopic landscapes inhabited by a cast of sharp-toothed, sharp-clawed and poisonous foes.

I don’t want to reveal any more plot details for fear of spoiling the fun for anyone who has yet to read Otherland. However, the clever weaving of aspects of myth and folklore with an entirely original, almost surreal depiction of the fairy kingdom, allied with one character who does not necessarily wish to escape from the evil queen’s clutches, make this story a unique reading experience. The characters, both good and evil, spring from the page fully-formed. Their dialogue drips with wry humour and every chapter abounds with labyrinthine plot twists. I enjoyed the way that Myra and Rohan’s distaste for each others’ personalities gradually turned to self-reflection and eventual mutual support and friendship. I have a huge soft spot for Rohan and his big-brotherly love for little Shilpa and I hope that the final chapter of Otherland leaves the possibility of further adventures to come!

Lightning Falls by Amy Wilson, illustrated by Rachel Vale and Helen Crawford-White

Cover image by, published by Macmillan 19 August 2021

This was the Primary School Book Club choice for September 2021 and I am embarrassed to admit that, although I have been aware of Amy Wilson’s reputation for some time, this is actually the first of her books that I have read. Why did I wait so long? Her description of Lightning Falls or The Ghost House, as it is commonly known, had me hooked from the first page; in fact the house is so central to the story that it is a character in its own right!

Lightning Falls acquired its name from the extraordinary waterfall to which it is adjacent; a former grand manor house which is now a tourist destination for ghost hunters attracted by the “creaks and the squeaks” who often arrive clutching their “fifty-per-cent-off promotional vouchers from the Ghostwatchers’ Express”! Owned by Lord Rory, described as an adventurer, its only other human inhabitants are Mrs Peters the housekeeper, Leon the receptionist and Ted the chef. However, the main attractions are the ghosts of former ancestors of Lord Rory and deceased staff, who together make an extraordinary family for Valerie, the first-person narrator of the tale.

One of the main themes running through the story is Valerie’s search for her identity and origins, her solitary clue being the pendant that she was found with. She lives with the hollow feeling of always wondering who left her behind at the hotel as a toddler. She has been brought up to believe that she is a “hallowed ghost”, she exhibits many human characteristics alongside the abilities to remain invisible to humans and float alongside her ghostly best friend, Meg. The warm family relationships with which Valerie is supported by her ghostly and human companions are beautifully and believably written and greatly add to the enjoyment of this fantasy mystery.

As the story begins, Lightning Falls is being besieged by Star Storms which are having a serious impact on the hotel guests. Then a mysterious boy appears, sitting on the ruined viaduct which runs across the raging river, with threads of lightning appearing from his fingers. Valerie is determined to discover whether he is the cause of the storms, but when she confronts him she finds that he holds the keys to unlock her past.

I won’t give away any spoilers because I don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of this glittering and magical tale. Lightning Falls is a wonderful story for children of 9+ to add to their fantasy and Halloween reading lists and I appreciated the fact that it is not too scary; I know that 9-year-old me would have enjoyed this very much without the nightmares that accompanied some ghost stories! The themes of family taking many forms and the importance of valuing every individual for themselves independent of labels, appealed to me as I’m sure it will do many others in the light of conversations around allyship and inclusion. Finally, a big thank you to the Primary School Bookclub members who have opened my eyes to the magical writing of Amy Wilson, I now have another collection of books to add to my ever-growing TBR stack!

Review: The Crackledawn Dragon by Abi Elphinstone

Cover image by George Ermos, published by Simon & Schuster UK

Devoted readers of the Unmapped Chronicles, of whom I am one, have become accustomed to the detailed and whimsical introduction to each new book in the series. Its presence at the start of The Crackledawn Dragon, means that this book can be read and enjoyed as a standalone although it is the conclusion to the series. Fortunately, Abi Elphinstone is not one of the grown-ups who she tells us are “far too busy to believe in magic.” She doesn’t just believe in it, she creates it with abandon, infuses it with wisdom and wonder and spins it into gloriously enchanting stories which leave a glow of pure delight when read.

Zebedee Bolt is the hero of this plot, a boy with three remarkable talents; running away from foster families, succumbing to spectacularly drenching outbursts of sobbing and a natural flair for music! Although he would like to emulate his hero, a TV survival expert known as The Tank, it seems unlikely that this dream will be realised. As we meet him at the start of the story he has run away from his latest foster parents, the Orderly-Queues (yes, the witty names are here in abundance) and is hiding out in an abandoned New York theatre when a kind social worker ( who fans will recognise from Jungledrop) finds him and reassures him that: “One day you will realise that you matter.”

Unfortunately, Morg the evil harpy is also hiding out under the theatre and uses her wily cunning to manipulate Zeb into bringing her the remaining Phoenix tears which will supply the magic she needs to break into the kingdom of Crackledawn. The insidious power of false promises and the deals that individuals can make with themselves to justify their actions or even inaction in the face of wrongdoing is very subtly explored through the interaction of Morg and Zeb during the first part of the story. 

Once they burst into Crackledawn, readers are propelled through the sparkling blue waters on the deck of Darktongue, Morg’s ship of shadows. Zeb discovers that his mission is to ride on Morg’s bone dragon all the way to the sun, protected only by the Stargold Wings, to retrieve the lost Ember Scroll so that Morg can write herself into permanent power over the Unmapped Kingdoms. When this plan goes awry, Zeb is rescued by a young Sunraider called Oonie, whose blindness has made her fearsomely independent as she sails the waters of Crackledawn aboard the enchanted dhow, The Kerfuffle. I will not give away any more plot details as readers will want to discover the story for themselves. Suffice to say that the twists and turns leave you breathless as you marvel at the array of magical creatures; in this case I was most taken with a hurtle turtle, which I would love to employ to do my own housework! As always the names sparkle with invention, my favourites in this book being an exuberantly maternal chameleon named Mrs Fickletint, closely followed by the merglimmer, Perpetual Faff! Oh, and there is humour in abundance, with laugh out loud moments to lighten the tension, such as Mrs Fickletint scolding Dollop the goblin for his suggestion of treetop yoga when the end of the world is imminent!

Abi is such a brilliant writer. You can tell that she totally understands children’s yearning for fantastical adventures, and this she conjures with great panache. On top of this she layers validation, reassurance and love; her characters exhibit flaws and doubts but learn the power of trust and friendship throughout the arc of the story. Then into this already heady mix she stirs in contemporary themes; most obviously the environmental crisis and more subtly, the way in which those with disappointed hopes can be taken in by the empty promises of individuals who wish to use them for their own nefarious purposes. Most of all, it is a story, like an unopenable purse… filled with hope.

I am grateful to Simon & Schuster for allowing me access to an electronic version of the book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I have subsequently purchased a physical copy and highly recommend this book to everyone of 9+.

If you have not already read them, I do encourage you to read the other books in the series:

Everdark, which I have reviewed here and here the second review is for the dyslexia-friendly version, Rumblestar and Jungledrop.

Review: Skyborn by Sinéad O’Hart

Cover art by Sara Mulvanny, published by Little Tiger Press

If you want an MG story to grab you by your emotional lapels and hurl you back and forth like a trapeze artist’s swing, then buy your ticket to Cyrus Quinn’s circus, take your seat in the big top and enjoy the show!

From the opening line of the prologue I was absolutely enthralled as Ester defied her mother’s instructions and began her perilous journey upwards. As her dreams of flight segue into her son Bastjan’s story, I couldn’t tear myself away from his quest to investigate his mother’s past and return an ancient treasure to its rightful owner.

Sinéad O’Hart’s writing is lyrical, big-hearted and utterly compelling. She effortlessly brings Bastjan’s character to life on the page, the reader feels the warmth and love with which Crake, the circus strongman, provides protection and support for the young, orphaned tumbler. This is brilliantly contrasted with the cold tyranny with which Quinn treats his stepson as he tries to reverse the fortunes of his foundering business. Since the death of his star performer, Ester, who held the crowds enraptured with her Dance of the Snowflakes trapeze routine, the crowds have dwindled and Quinn will seemingly stop at nothing to replace her. But what was the secret of her aerial ability, and has her son inherited her fearless talent?

The arrival of an upper-class runaway, Alice Patten, proves the catalyst for twists and turns in the plot that build to a crescendo of explosive action. I will not go into any details for fear of ruining your enjoyment of a story with more thrills and spills than a tent full of acrobats. Suffice to say that the immaculate world-building combined with wonderfully drawn characters make this a book to be savoured, it is a hugely enjoyable work of speculative fiction combining a brilliant blend of circus, steampunk and fantasy. It will be massively enjoyed by confident readers of 9+ and would make an excellent whole class or bedtime story which I am sure that adults will enjoy as much as their young audience; just be prepared for constant pleas for “one more chapter”!

Skyborn will be published on 10th June 2021 and I am most grateful to Little Tiger Press for providing me with a pre-publication copy in exchange for my honest opinion.