Alex English: Sky Pirates – Echo Quickthorn and the Great Beyond (Simon & Schuster Ltd. 2020)

Vashti Hardy: Brightstorm (Scholastic 2018)

I read these two books in a row because I wanted to compare them. The common things are that both novels have a lot of steam-punk elements and the characters don’t have magical abilities (as they usually do in fantasies), they can only count on their ingenuity.

Sky Pirates is the first middle grade novel of Alex English. Its protagonist is Echo, a found child who grows up in Lockfort’s kingdom. All she wants is to meet people who look like her: dark skin and curly hair, because everyone is blonde in Lockfort except her. But dreaming of an adventurous journey is useless, as there is nothing beyond the walls of the city. Or is it? One night, a mysterious airship arrives from beyond the wall… The next volume of the series will be released in this August (and I can’t wait to read that).

Steam-punk elements can be found in all of Vashti Hardy’s books. In this story, we follow the twins, Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm, who live in Lontown and wait for their father, who never returned from his latest expedition. That’s why they also set out to take part in a race aimed at conquering the South Pole (polar fantasy, so it’s very, very cold). The story does not take place in our world, as there are three continents, but we can discover some known elements in it, such as the Slavic mythical creature, the Firebird. It most closely resembles Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. The sequel has also been released, entitled Darkwhispers. Another middle grade series of the writer (which was written specifically for younger middle graders) is Griffin Gate, which published in a dyslexia friendly edition. The second volume of the series will hit UK bookstores in early September.