Illustrated by Mark Chambers.
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2020.
Sky Pirates, Echo Quickthorn and the Great Beyond is a terrific book and I devoured it in a weekend! It’s perfect for fans of Abi Elphinstone and Vashti Hardy, indeed aspects of the book reminded me of Rumblestar and Wildspark.
Echo Quickthorn lives in Lockfort as a ward of the king. However, she feels like an outsider; while everyone else has straight blonde hair, Echo has a mass of brown curls. She longs to see someone else like her. More than that, she longs to find her mother. Yet this seems impossible. Echo is confined to the castle by King Alfons, and the people of Lockfort are forbidden to leave their walled city, the gates of which are permanently locked. Beyond the city walls lies the Barren, a wide, rocky, bare expanse that stretches out to the horizon. Beyond that they have been told that there is nothing but the end of the world.
So one night when the explorer Professor Mangrove Daggerwing crashes his airship into the parapet wall outside Echo’s bedroom and tells her of the world outside Lockfort, he plants the seeds of an adventure in Echo’s mind. It’s not long before Echo, her pet chameleon Gilbert, and Prince Horace (an accidental stowaway) are onboard the airship with Professor Daggerwing and bound for Port Tourbillon. Whereas Lockfort was insular and inward-looking, fearful of the unknown, Port Tourbillon is a vibrant, diverse city which celebrates and welcomes difference. And it’s here where Echo finally begins to unearth some clues about her mother and her whereabouts.
Sky Pirates is such an exciting read; it’s a real page-turner of a book. Echo and Horace’s adventure is brimming with danger and discovery: high-speed chases, gigantic carnivorous plants, the Black Sky Wolves (a band of fearsome sky pirates) and imprisonment.
There’s terrific STEM content too. The book is packed with lots of amazing inventions and gadgets, from clockwork powered mechanical beetles and brass postal pigeons to airships and jet packs. There’s also a great minor character – the fiercely brilliant Abena Tuesday, a young engineer who’s built an impressive dragon mech called Smokesister. I really hope we see more of Abena in the future.
The world building in Sky Pirates is amazing. Alex has created such a vividly imagined world. And there’s a map! I absolutely love a book with a map. I really liked the place names too; my favourites were the Violet Isles (Amethyst, Magenta, Heliotrope and Tyrian) and the place names which incorporated lovely French words (Port Tourbillon, Bonneville and the Dark Nordlands).
The book is illustrated by Mark Chambers and I especially liked the cityscapes and the depictions of all the technology and inventions.
The themes of friendship and family are strong and well-nuanced. I really enjoyed watching the relationship develop between Echo and Horace. At the beginning of the book they barely tolerate each other but, after all their adventures together, their understanding of each other runs deep and they end up as firm and fiercely loyal friends. Echo’s very personal quest to find her mom and a place where she feels like she belongs is poignant and true.
I’m delighted that this is the first book in a series; I can’t wait to join Echo again as she ventures into the Dragonlands in book two.
Suitable for children aged 8+
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me this book to review. I reviewed it as part of the Sky Pirates blog tour where Alex talked to me about the transition from picture books to middle grade. You can read what she had to say here.