A new and exciting middle grade adventure with impressive worldbuilding and an eclectic collection of fun and fantastic characters.
Echo lives in luxury with the King of Lockfort and his son Horace but she’s not happy. She simply doesn’t fit in – every time she peers over the castle walls to the streets below, she tries to spot someone with dark, curly hair like hers but everyone has straight fair hair and peachy-pale skin. With the exception of Horace, she’s kept away from other children so her only true friend is a lizard called Gilbert. Echo feels she belongs somewhere else but there is nowhere else to belong because everywhere beyond Lockfort was destroyed in the Great War. This changes, however, when eccentric Professor Daggerwing crashes his airship outside her bedroom window in the middle of the night. He claims there is a whole world beyond Lockfort – a world that Echo is determined to explore.
Open this book and you’re immediately drawn into a new and exciting world: a world of airships, and mechanical dragons, clockwork pigeons and – of course – Sky Pirates. There is no doubt that this worldbuilding is the book’s greatest strength and it’s testament to the talent of author, Alex English, that we so easily accept and understand every element of this unusual world.
The world building is supported by an eclectic collection of fun and fantastic characters. I particularly loved the way Echo’s best friend is a lizard and enjoyed the passing references to the antics of Professor Daggerwing’s many pet cats. I suspect that middle grade readers will love meeting the Sky Pirates who are equipped with the full pirate gear. Personally, however, my favourite character was Prince Horace. His fears and complaints in the opening chapters are unlikely to make him instant fans amongst readers but I was impressed by the depth of the characterisation and loved the way he changes and develops as the story progresses. In the climax Horace truly comes into his own and I was happily cheering him on.
I can’t write a review of this book without mentioning Mark Chambers’ wonderful black and white illustrations which add something extra special to the book. (In fact, they are so appealing it made me wonder why more illustrations aren’t included in books for children of this age). The pictures really bring the world alive, adding extra magic when Echo first witnesses the places in the ‘Great Beyond’. (You’ll see what I mean when you buy your copy and skip to the illustration of the Mech Market on page 128 or when Echo catches her first glimpse of Port Tourbillon on p113). I also loved the expressions on Professor Daggerwing’s cats’ faces!
If you enjoyed this, I suspect you’ll also love Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy. Alternatively, why not try either Sky Thieves by Dan Walker, or Robyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes by Paula Harrison.
Publication Date: July 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Author’s website: Alex English