There’s a lot to be said for proper, honest-to-goodness children’s adventure stories, and all of it can be said about Sky Pirates. Eleven-year-old Echo Quickthorn is an orphan and a ward of thoroughly unlikeable King Alfons of Lockfort. Lockfort itself is positioned on the edge of the Barrens and its inhabitants believe that beyond the Barrens is nothing, just cloud, mist and a very big drop. Why King Alfons is so eager to promulgate this belief is one of the mysteries of the book and it’s part of Echo’s destiny to disprove this piece of fake news. Unlike bookish Prince Horace, the only other child she’s allowed to be friends with, Echo dreams of escape so the unexpected arrival of a hot air balloon containing an eccentric explorer Professor Daggerwing provides exactly the opportunity she’s longed for. Before you can say “second star to the right”, Echo has rescued the professor from Lockfort’s dungeons and is sailing off with him in his hot air balloon on the trail of truth, adventure and – she hopes – her long-lost mother. Horace of course is caught up too and the relationship between these two motherless children (the queen died when he was five) is one of the many enjoyable aspects of this story.
The children’s adventures bring them new experiences and new friends but into danger too – there’s an unforgettable encounter with man-eating plants, and a surprising run-in with those eponymous pirates. Echo is a truly sympathetic character, her adventures unfold at a delightful pace and are livened with humour as well as those moments of real peril, while Alfons is most definitely a villain for our times. It’s heartening too that on her journey into the unknown, Echo learns so much about herself. A thoroughly enjoyable read.