Lucky’s life is thrown into turmoil when his mother dies protecting him from government forces. Lucky escapes in the alien spaceship commanded by Captain Nox. His mission – to find his father, the heroic Major Dashwood, fighting beyond the Spacewall. But there is more, for something terrible, a Wolf of Darkness is swallowing the stars; stars that Lucky seems to be able to hear as they sing. What are the words? Why does Lucky sometimes feel his body burning? The search for all these answers will take Lucky and his friends to the very edge of their world. There, Lucky will have to make a decision, a decision that could save the Universe – or destroy it.
It is exciting to see the partnership between S. F. Said and Dave McKean back and the combination is as dynamic as before. However, this is not a repeat of Varjak Paw – no ninja cats. Here we are in a world made familiar by Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr Who; a world in which man has moved away from earth to live among the stars, where interplanetary travel is commonplace and strange races rub shoulders together. The plot is full of action from the moment we meet Lucky as he finds himself in the middle of a mystery – why is there a hole burnt in his sheet? What are the voices he can hear in his head? There is then no pause to the final moment of choice. Sentences are short, description is kept to the minimum and is delivered with confidence while there is plenty of dialogue, ensuring the story moves along briskly. All of this will make it attractive to young readers who will find it easy to identify with the characters. These are neatly defined without complexity or ambiguity though, as is demanded by the quest, the hero must face choices and make mistakes before he reaches his goal. Throughout, the text is intertwined – invaded even – by McKean’s trademark black and white illustrations. Except here these are more than illustrations, picking up as they do elements of the narrative, driving it on, creating visual excitement and tension through images that have form and at the same time the formless energy of the universe.
This would not be a novel by Said without a strong message. For adults, the allegorical elements will be clear from the names of the characters to the relationship between the imagined races and in the conclusion. Indeed, for some the obvious nature of the message may detract from their enjoyment. For younger readers this will more likely add depth to their reading and a sense of excitement as they make connections, see correlations, identify patterns. However, they will not need to be conscious of ‘the message’ to enjoy and be reassured by, a lively, well constructed adventure that conforms to traditions of the genre.
This novel has been a long time coming, and while it lacks some of the freshness of Varjak Paw, it does not disappoint. Said is an author to watch, writing as he does, not for teens, but for a KS2 audience, delivering exciting, well written stories that combine text and illustration to dramatic effect. What will be next?