An exciting middle grade adventure that is also a masterpiece of plotting.
As spaceships go the ‘Orion’ is a relatively old transport ship. It has, however, been entirely refitted and 13-year old Beth likes it immediately. This is just as well as it’s going to be a long journey: even with the ability to “jump” mind-boggling distances, it’s going to take nine months to reach their new life on Eos Five. Beth is initially worried about space pirates and aliens (Videshi) but her mum assures her that the worst thing she is likely to experience is boredom. During the first four months, this seems about right. Then one of the “jumps” goes wrong. It’s not possible to wake any of the adults from their temporary sleep so Beth and a handful of other teenagers find themselves attempting to navigate the heavily damaged ship through unknown space. Suddenly, all Beth’s worst fears start to be realised.
This sounds like a far-fetched premise (and it is) but author, Alastair Chisholm, successfully manages to make the bizarre and absurd seem totally feasible. He has clearly considered every aspect of life on the Orion and skilfully describes the slightly strange notions (e.g. how everyone must go into temporary sleep mode when they “jump”) in a way that makes them entirely believable. Indeed, I was surprised just how easy it was to accept how Beth and a collection of other children find themselves having to pilot through the depths of space.
The concept is slightly reminiscent of some YA stories I’ve read in recent years (such as The Loneliness of Distant Beings). It is, however, perfectly pitched for an upper middle grade audience, with enough complexity to retain their interest but without straying into issues beyond friendship and rivalry.
The characters are all well realised (my personal favourites being Lauryn and Orion’s artificial intelligence – known simply as “Ship”). I particularly liked the way the children act their age when they take control of the Orion. It’s clear they don’t have the skills and experience required to manage such a complex machine – or even the ability to get along harmoniously.
More impressive than either the world building or the characterisation, is the plot. This is well written and carefully constructed with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader glued to the book. (There are fires on the spaceship, life-endangering spacewalks, encounters with space pirates and with aliens.) Indeed, I read the 360 pages in almost one sitting. However, as you read on, you come to realise there is so much more to this. These are not just isolated events that push forward an already exciting story – every incident has another purpose and there is, in fact, a mystery to be unlocked. A mystery that I simply couldn’t figure out. And yet, when the author chooses to finally reveal what has really been going on, it all fits perfectly, providing a perfect twist and linking back to the set-up around both the characters and the ship.
If you enjoyed this and are looking for another adventure in a different type of setting, why not try Boy X by Dan Smith. Or, for an altogether different type of middle-grade space adventure featuring laugh out loud scenarios, why not try Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Date: January 2019
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Author’s website: Alastair Chisholm