After a brief period during which I forgot all about the reading challenges in which I am participating, I am pushing ahead to finish off the last few letters that I need to complete the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge for 2016 hosted by Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book. Even though the challenge allows you to bend a bit for the trickier letters, choosing books that have that letter anywhere in the title (rather than heading up the first word of the title), I’ve done my best so far to stick to the letter of the law, as it were. Today’s book completes the “V” requirement of the challenge, with middle grade fantasy adventure, Voyage to Magical North (The Accidental Pirates #1) by Claire Fayers. I bought this one after hearing some trusted blogs raving about it and noticing that shining golden V in the title. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past–if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she’s spent the past years keeping house for an irritable magician and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter.
When Brine and Peter get themselves into a load of trouble and flee, they blunder into the path of the legendary pirate ship the Onion. Before you can say “pieces of eight,” they’re up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even think it exists. If Brine is lucky, she may find out who her parents are. And if she’s unlucky, everyone on the ship will be eaten by sea monsters. It could really go either way.
I picked this one up on the promise of humour, quirky characters and an adventurous story and I am happy to say that the book delivered on all three. As far as the plot goes, it’s a fairly typical quest to find the hidden “treasure” while defeating an apparently unkillable villain, but where this book stands out is in the telling. The characters all have strong traits and obvious flaws and for most of them, a bit of growth is the order of the day by the end of the adventure. Brine, the protagonist, is brave and able to make the most of certain unpleasant situations; Peter, Brine’s fellow servant (although really an apprentice magician), is by turns unsure and cocky, and liable to be easily led. Cassie O’Pia, the pirate queen of the Onion (the boat which should have been called the Orion, but for an unfortunate spelling error) flies by the seat of her pants while maintaining the facade of absolute pre-planning.
There’s also an epic and mysterious library staffed entirely by women, a back-from-the-dead magical villain to rival Lord Mouldy Shorts himself, a colony of telepathic (and unusually ravenous) ice birds and a collection of other slightly-left-of-centre characters to add flavour to this piratical soup. The humour is wry and dry and exactly the sort that will appeal to adult readers, as well as the age of reader at which the story is targeted and all in all, this is an impressive series opener, with the promise of completely new directions for the team’s next adventure.
I did find that the pace of this one was a tad slower than the average middle grade fantasy adventure I’ve read, mostly due to the fact that the characters tend to do a lot of reflecting on who they are, where life is taking them, and what on earth they’re doing stuck on a pirate ship with a deadly magician. The point of view alternates between Brine and Peter, so there is a bit of variety in both the focus of the action as well as the mood of the book, with Brine seeming to throw caution to the wind (or at least make the best of a possibly bad lot), and Peter exploring how deeply his own vein of potential villainy may flow.
Overall I found this to be a fun and absorbing read with some original aspects and plenty of side giggles. I particularly enjoyed the snippets from “The Ballad of Cassie O’Pia” which headed up a number of chapters and wouldn’t mind composing a little tune so I can sing them now and again when I’m feeling particularly piratical. I recommend this one for middle graders who like an adventure into which they can sink their teeth and adult readers who like middle grade reads that are anything but run-of-the-mill.
If you are interested, you can check out my progress in the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge for 2016 here.
Until next time,