A pirate ship plies the garbage-strewn and poisonous seas of a late 21st century finally recovering from the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
Toby is the 14-year-old chief engineer of the Phoenix in a world with poisonous oceans, where the sun has emerged at last from the starving decades of the Darkness and where England has been long overthrown by the military dictatorship of St. George. Despite the backbreaking work of finding salvage in the deadly, acid waters, Toby's life isn't so bad: he loves his job; his best friend is an animatronic AI parrot; and he's just met someone his own age for the first time. Hiko is a scruffy young stowaway who earns a berth helping Toby rescue the Phoenix in a deadly storm. But the storm is just the beginning of bad luck for the (mostly lovable) pirate crew. They must escape the Phoenix's nemesis, the killers that crew pirate captain Nell's Banshee, while repairing their own ship in a possibly hostile port. Copious violence ensues (though remarkably little death), and Toby must seek an alliance with Capt. Nell's remarkably pretty and remarkably vicious 15-year-old daughter if the day’s to be saved for the multiethnic and multinational crew (of the main characters, only half-Japanese, half-unspecified Hiko has an identifiable ethnicity). Although the resources and agriculture described are often inconsistent with the 40-year, tree-killing Darkness, mostly solid plotting and a deft setup for Volume 2 should keep many readers happy.
Thrilling steamship adventure overcomes wobbly worldbuilding. (Science fiction. 12-14)