An almost perfect action adventure for 8-12 year old readers based on an inspired and original concept.
Zoya Delarose never quite fitted in at the orphanage and she’s about to learn why. Abducted at the end of a school trip, Zoya is knocked unconscious and wakes up in a creaking sky ship in the dead of night. She attempts to escape but when she’s caught and brought in front of the ship’s captain, Zoya discovers a history and a threat that will change her life forever.
This is an intriguing adventure about a world where the sky is teaming with airships from post-office freighters, airbuses and tourist transporters to the patrol ships of the Aviation Army and the notorious sky thief airships. With minimal explanation, the reader easily embraces the fantasy elements of this world and debut author, Dan Walker, skilfully shapes our perceptions. For example, even before we meet the Dragonfly airship we have assimilated that this particular set of sky thieves are different to the rest – we know the thieves on board don’t brawl and kill and that they rob only those who can afford it, giving every penny they take to those in need.
From the moment we meet Zoya (breaking into the office of the orphanage owner and headmaster by climbing through his office ceiling) we know this is a character we’re going to want to follow. This only intensifies when, within a a few pages, Zoya’s life is turned upside down: the only person she’s ever been close to is brutally murdered and she finds herself trapped on a sky ship. Zoya is desperate to discover where she is and the reader immediately shares this desire, enjoying the unfolding explanation of her unusual surroundings and the account of Zoya’s special history.
Zoya is surrounded by an equally well-rounded set of supporting characters. For example, there is her dare-devil friend Bucker and a colourful cast of sky thieves on the air ship Dragonfly. It’s rare for adults to have large parts in middle-grade stories but here we have the wonderful Beebee, not to mention Captain Vaspine and – my personal favourite – Rosie (Bucker’s mum and expert swordswoman). We also have a truly evil antagonist in the form of Lendon Kane.
While the characters are strong, it’s the plot that’s really the key to this story. This rattles along at a good pace weaving in sword fights, meteor storms, midnight raids and a strong dramatic climax. Indeed, this is an almost perfect action adventure for 8-12 year old readers.
If you enjoyed this, you should also check out Robyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes by Paula Harrison or The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol, both middle-grade adventures with a strong female characters.
Date: April 2017
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Author’s Website: Dan Walker
Review first published on The Bookbag