Children’s Book Review: Sky Pirates – Echo Quickthorn and the Great Beyond (Volume 1) by Alex English

Sky Pirates by Alex English cover

We have now firmly passed into The Age of Middle Grade Fiction in our house and Sky Pirates by Alex English has powered us into this new adventure with the wind in our sails. Full of fun, friendship and fantasy, this imaginative novel will make you want to pull out all your maps and set off on a grand journey of your own. What’s more, it contains the most whimsical illustrations by Mark Chambers, which breathe extra life into the scenes and characters.

I’ve known the author, Alex English, for a few years now as we are both members of SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and it’s great to see her creation come to life after lots of hard graft.

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11 year-old Echo Quickthorn has grown up believing that nothing exists outside the Kingdom of Lockfort, but everything changes when an eccentric professor parks his airship outside her window armed with a map that shows all the magical places that exist beyond the city walls. 

Together with her pet lizard, Gilbert, Echo sets off on an incredible adventure to find her missing mother; an adventure that will take her to unimaginable places filled with giant butterflies, mechanical dragons and . . . sky pirates!

If you have a dreamer for a child then they’ll enjoy lots of aspects of Sky Pirates, which incorporates epic fantasy themes in an original format that’s ideal for 8-11 year olds. Here are some the standouts for us:

The Great Beyond

The Great Beyond is one of my favourite fantasy tropes of all time. The idea that an unseen and unknown world lies outside of the ‘real’ world is always compelling and this is a central feature of Sky Pirates. King Alfons has told his subjects that nothing exists apart from the walled Kingdom of Lockhart, but the lead character Echo, the king’s ward, discovers that this is a lie when an air explorer appears outside her window.

From here, secrets begin to unravel as Echo leaves her confines and goes in search of her lost mother. We see what I hope is only a small corner of the map in this first volume, but the spread of locations – including a city and islands, has definitely whetted my appetite for more.

Echo Quicksilver and Prince Horace

There’s no doubt that Echo is a feisty, capable character and her curiosity powers the entire story but she really comes alive for me when interacting with the bookish, rule-abiding Prince Horace. Despite all their arguing and complaining, you can see the warmth at the heart of their friendship. This had the authenticity of a relationship where two people are bound together in close proximity – simultaneously needing companionship, yet also annoying each other intensely.

Family Secrets

NO SPOILERS. This is an incredibly important part of the book though and one which keeps you guessing all the way through. Families are central to Sky Pirates in more ways than one. I worked out a good chunk of the revelations, but Little M didn’t know what was going to happen so experienced the thrill of more than a few surprises. This is a story about belonging and what it means to leave that behind.

And what about the pirates? Well they exist for sure, but not until later in the novel so hang in there!

Sky Pirates is a really strong debut that sets up a whole new world for middle grade readers and has characters that you’ll want to befriend. We’re eager to see where Echo’s travels take her next time.

  • Paperback : 352 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1471190773
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1471190773
  • Publisher : Simon & Schuster Children’s UK
  • Reading level : 8 and up

Buy Sky Pirates by Alex English | Amazon

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Children’s Book Review: The Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell

Children’s Book Review: Mythopedia by Good Wives and Warriors

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