Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

A modern day Narnia-style adventure set in a magical frozen world. A middle grade must-read.

The Ice Queen has cast a spell on Erkenwald, separating the Fur and Feather Tribes and making the third – the Tusk Tribe – the enemy of both. Eager to secure her position by gaining eternal life, the Ice Queen is consuming the voices of the Erkenwald people. There seems little anyone can do until three children – Eska, Flint and Blu – come together. With help from ‘the wild’, they set off on a quest to find the legendary ‘Frost Horn’ and the magical ‘Sky Song’ that will free Erkenwald from the Ice Queen’s control.

A land of ice and magic ruled by an evil Ice Queen is in many ways reminiscent of C S Lewis’s now classic Chronicles of Narnia. A chosen child bonded with an eagle is also similar to the bond between Lyra and her daemon in Philip Pullman’s hugely successful The Dark Materials series. Add to this a fast moving plot and a dusting of an almost forgotten magic and Sky Song has all the elements required for a fantasy adventure that will enthral and entrance middle grade readers.

Although the scene setting in the prologue is slightly dry, I was totally gripped from the opening paragraph of chapter one when we meet the first of our three child protagonists, Eska, trapped in the Ice Queen’s music box. Skip forward to chapter two and we meet our second protagonist – the boy inventor, Flint, who is brave and determined despite the fact he doesn’t fit with the warriors of the rest of his tribe. And, finally, a little further on, we meet my personal favourite of our threesome – Flint’s younger sister, Blu, who, to use the author’s own words, is different from everyone else in the Tribe … her eyes were smaller and sloping … [and] her words came out jumbled even though she was eight and should have known better. Add two animals – an eagle and a permanently hungry fox pup – and you have the most original and appealing collection of heroes.

The plot itself is a standard quest story with plenty of obstacles to overcome and dangers to escape from. There’s also a strong magical element and a well-realised setting. It is, however, the interplay between this unusual group of heroes that really lifts this book above the rest in its genre.

The other thing that makes this story very special is the way the adventure is used to convey some extremely powerful messages. The most obvious, and perhaps timely, is the importance of co-operation between the tribes. However, it is the more subtle messages that most drew me in – messages about friendship and hope and the fact that there are different types of bravery. I especially liked the way that author Abi Elphinstone, uses Flint’s reactions to demonstrate that it is okay for boys to show emotion and to release this emotion through tears. There is, after all, nothing weak about the resourceful and steadfast Flint.

The strongest message for me, however, is around the value of diversity and the importance of accepting people for who they are. Both Eska and Flint are seeking acceptance but this message is most powerful by the simple inclusion of Blu in our trio of protagonists. Blu has Downs Syndrome but, unlike so many stories where one of the characters has a disability, the story is not about her dealing with her disability or overcoming it. Instead, she’s simply a realistic and likeable character who is being herself and who is able to make her own contribution to steering the group successfully through the adventure.

If you enjoyed this, the most obvious stories you should check out are The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis. However, if you’ve already read these or if you’re looking for something more modern, why not go back to Abi Elphinstone’s debut novel The Dreamsnatcher.

ISBN:  978-1471146077
Date: January 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Pages: 288
Author’s website: Abi Elphinstone

Madge's 5 / 5 Star Book rating

Review first published on The Bookbag

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