Mystery and Adventures in Middle Grade reading. Reviews brought to you by Erin the Cat.
This week we review:-
Hello and welcome back to the blog.
After a hefty hiatus, and by that I don’t mean all the pounds and kilos Mrs H has piled on during lockdown, we have finally burst free from the covid induced hiding under the duvet, with a review of a most wonderful book.
I recently finished reading books 1 & 2 in the Strangeworlds Travel Agency series by acclaimed author L.D. Lapinski (more on these great books in another review) and found myself with a massive void to fill in my reading life. So I instructed Mrs H to hunt through through Amazon for something exciting and flavoursome that I could dive into.
Alas, she bought a saucepan! I tweeted about my woes at her apparent ineptitude, and possible need for new glasses, and was rewarded by L.D. Lapinski herself recommending to us The Ship of Shadows.
And most grateful I am too, as this has proven to be a delightful adventure.
So enough of the pre-amble, heres the review!
The adventure starts in Seville, Spain, in the early part of the 1700’s, 1715 to be precise. Here we meet Aleja, a twelve-year-old who would rather seek adventure and trips to foreign countries than do what other girls her age are expected to do. Teased and bullied for wanting to follow her dreams, she spends her nights on the city’s rooftops. There she dreams, studies the stars, and reads books about the famous pirates, explorers and adventurers: Columbus and Thomas James, to name but two.
One night Aleja spots a mysterious, cannon-fire damaged ship slip silently into port under cover of darkness. When she realises the ship belongs to the long-missing, presumed dead explorer, Thomas James, her interest is more than aroused. Piecing together what she has read, this ship has to be the infamous Ship of Shadows, a pirate ship feared by men and said to be crewed by a band of merciless pirate women. The ship is also said to be haunted by the ghosts of the sailors they have killed. She is keen to know more. After all, these are women who are defying the expectations of their gender and living a life of adventure Aleja can only dream of. Who wouldn’t want to at least see if the tales were true?
Whilst following one of the women from the crew, she discovers, quite by chance, smuggled gold coins on the dock – counterfeit coins. Caught with a coin in her hand, she manages to escape from the gang. If she tells the authorities, the penalty for them will be death. The sentence for being accused of being a thief is public flogging. The smugglers give chase, intent on retrieving the coin and branding her a thief. Aleja runs because who would believe a twelve-year-old over the leader of the gang who is a prominent landlord.
Now, through twists and turns, she comes a cropper and is caught. And so begins probably the best adventure of its kind I have read in many a year, and worthy to sit beside Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, the Arabian Nights tales, and Jules Verne’s adventures. I know these are big names to compare against, but this is a big-hearted story in the same vein.
What I really liked.
An excellent and varied supporting cast of personalities that are not cut and dried, and evolve with the story. No adventure would be complete without villains, and this has the looming threat of a key antagonist, a pirate hunter with a grudge. Of course, there are fantastic monsters, too, monsters that I think Jules would have been proud of and punctuate the story just at the right moments! Mrs H says she’ll never be going to the seaside again without some serious backup!
Did I mention the ship itself? Well, that is more fun and secrets buried within its timbers than Hogwarts.
Which sort of leads me to a question I have increasingly been asking myself as I read more and more Middle-Grade adventures. Would I take this over JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, given this is the first book? The answer is an emphatic YES. Both have their merits, but this has a kind of spark that goes deeper and wider and stretches the enquiring mind more. Maybe that is just us, but Mrs H and I both felt that we had been transported away with this book, and I half expected a flying carpet to be by the bedroom window when I looked out.
Now I won’t spoil any more for you; that really would not be fair on what is a wonderful tale.
The second instalment of this beautiful adventure, called The ‘Secrets of the Stars’, is released 8th of July 2021. We are hoping to buy of a copy of this as soon as released and will do a review for you.
If you know some budding adventurer (of whatever age) who would love a great read, then please do consider ordering from your local independent book shop. In this day and age, they all deserve our business.
I can’t leave without saying just how nice the book cover is. In fact, it has two front covers, all glossy and exciting.
And here is the back cover.
Well that’s it from me this week. I hope you enjoyed this review.
The Ship of Shadows is published by Puffin Books, part of Penguin Random House.
Tune in next time when we will be reviewing one of my favourites: Max the Detective Cat, by Sarah Todd Taylor!