Alex English (text) and Mark Chambers (illustrator), Echo Quickthorn and The Great Beyond (Sky Pirates #1), Simon & Schuster, 352 pp., RRP $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781471190773
Echo Quickthorn lives in a castle in the Kingdom of Lockfort. Abandoned as a baby, she longs to find her mother. She also dreams of adventure, even though she’s been told there is nothing outside the Kingdom but the barren Great Beyond. Then the eccentric Professor Daggerwing crashes his airship right outside her bedroom window and Echo’s whole world changes. Armed with a jewelled hair pin in the shape of a wolf’s head — the only clue she has about her mother – Echo and her pet lizard Gilbert set off on a remarkable adventure to fascinating and exotic places.
There is so much to love about this story. So much. Not only is it a charming adventure set in a fantasy world, but the characters and situations they find themselves in are all at once comfortingly familiar and deliciously new.
The themes of friendship, family and fear run smoothly through the book and it was very easy to fall in love with the characters especially Echo and Horace. Echo is a smart, spunky, determined heroine that kids will connect with and paired with the ever loyal Gilbert, they are a pair to be reckoned with. But I have to admit Prince Horace was my favourite; his loyalty when it mattered most showed how much he grew as a person through his adventures.
The elements of steam punk are perfect for this type of fantasy adventure. I loved all the mechanical contraptions and their loveably eccentric and determined inventors. Elements of this book reminded me of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series and Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve, albeit for a younger audience.
The version of the book I had included a spattering of stunning double-page black and white illustrations by Mark Chambers. There is just enough of them to bring the book to life and open up this wonderful fantasy world for the reader and they are an ideal addition to the book.
The book was easy to read yet included some challenging ideas and vocabulary making it perfect for its intended audience.
If I had one criticism it was that at times Echo seemed to have almost too much agency, with adults deferring to her judgement in situations that I thought unlikely. But then, I am an adult reading this with adult eyes and kids will most likely delight in the fact that for once, a child is being listened to!
This is an engaging book for kids aged 8 – 11 who enjoy fantasy, adventure, and a quest for truth — in other word, pretty much every kid! I highly recommend it and am looking forward to exploring more of Echo’s world in what I am sure will become a much loved series.
Reviewed by Renee Mihulka