By Bryony Pearce
Hardcover, 333 pages
2017, Sky Pony Press
Toby grew up on his father’s ship, The Phoenix, scouring the seas for any bits of their previous society that they can salvage while avoiding the government, who is after several crew members, including Toby’s father. Now they’re questing for near-mythical solar panels that would eliminate their need for fuel. Before they can set follow the coordinates Toby’s father has found, rival pirates from The Banshee attack and jeopardize The Phoenix’s shot at the panels.
A middle-grade book about pirates in a post-apocalyptic setting? Sign me up! When I initially requested this book I thought it would give me Shipbreaker vibes. Unfortunately, I was disappointed on all counts and wish I’d just re-read Shipbreaker.
My biggest issue with this book was my inability to picture most of what was going on. The bulk of the story takes place on the ship and the trash-filled sea and I couldn’t clearly picture either. From what I gather, a series of natural disasters destroyed the society as we know it and knocked out much of our technology. The sun disappeared for a few years, but now it’s back. The ocean has some sort of deadly levels of salt or acid or something and it’s full of trash and old vehicles and all sorts of stuff that pirates could salvage. None of this information gave me a clear picture and it felt like disaster overkill.
The Phoenix is mostly wood, I think, but maybe also had some metal parts and the bridge is made of glass (not sure why that’d be beneficial, but what do I know?) It has two different types of engines, one for traditional fuel and another for combustibles, and it also has paddles. There is a diagram of the ship at the beginning of the book but when it came to trying to imagine the characters navigating the ship, I simply couldn’t do it and just imaged the deck of a basic, ye olde pirate ship.
Pair my confusion with the fact that next to nothing happens for the first 50% of the book and I was ready to call it quits. I primarily kept going because I requested the book and the writing isn’t bad, it just didn’t capture my attention and I think perhaps the book was taking on too much at once. Even with the low level of activity at the start of the book, the characters didn’t feel well developed either.
The crew of The Phoenix is forgettable. The captain is kind but firm and dedicated to his ragtag crew of semi-criminals. Various crew members are mentioned throughout the book – some more than others, and they seem to either like Toby or dislike him. There’s a pair of bully brothers, who I think are much too old to be tormenting and threatening the fourteen-ish-year-old son of the captain. Toby feels much younger than his age and is more caring and trusting than I think a child who grew up with a hard life at sea, amidst a ship full of wanted men and women, should be.
There’s even a mechanical parrot who goes by the clichéd name of Polly. She was apparently created by the captain before the world completely fell apart and though I think she’s supposed to add a steampunk feel to the novel, she felt magical instead. She has a metal skeleton and many of her abilities are explained with her “biomass” something-or-other and she has real feathers and looks real, but she needs to vacuum up pellets (of unknown substance) for power. She can store and download information like a computer and her personality is “cares for Toby.”
No one on the rival ship really matters except its captain, Nell, and her daughter and second in command, Ayla. Nell is mean, bent on vengeance and not very violent considering she’s so ruthless and her crew is supposed to frighten the pants off everyone else. Ayla is pretty, smart, good with a sword and doesn’t require her head shaved and a skull tattoo like every other crew member (male or female) likely because she’s the captain’s daughter and Toby’s potential love interest. Despite her purported awesomeness, I didn’t understand why she was chosen as second in command as a fifteen-year-old and I didn’t peg Captain Nell as one for nepotism.
The plot picks up somewhat at the end but based on the opinion I’d formed of Toby I didn’t find his role in a rescue mission believable. His relationship with Ayla is an awkward back and forth of trust issues and unwarranted care for each other and I kept forgetting they were teens because they behaved more like ten-year-olds. The stakes felt low because I had no connection with any of the characters and there was some info-dumping that could have fleshed out the characters some, but I was too tired to care at that point.
I think Pearce was trying to cram too much into one book and as a result, the world-building, characters and plot all fell flat for me. This book is clearly a setup for the next in the series, but I won’t be continuing.
I received this book for free from Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
Here’s Pearce’s website.