Thrilling steamship adventure overcomes wobbly worldbuilding



From the Phoenix series , Vol. 1

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)

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5107-0734-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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Melodramatic but definitively all over the place contentwise.


A teenager battles social anxiety disorder and giant bugs in a subterranean world.

When two bad friends to whom she’s been clinging trick her into venturing into the ominously named Drowners Swamp, Eliza falls into a sinkhole that leads into a seemingly endless cave system. Being an avid fan of caves and geology, Eliza is as enthralled as she is terrified—a mix of emotions that remains unaltered as she encounters a small community of likewise trapped people surviving on a diet of outsized spiders and cave insects. Weeks later she is captured (briefly, thanks to a conveniently timed spider attack) by bioluminescent humanoids. All the while, despite having been in therapy for years, she continually denigrates herself for panic attacks and freezing up around others. Her emotional reactions take up so much of the narrative, in fact, that for all its lurid, occasionally gruesome turns, it’s hard to tell whether character or action drives the story more. In the event, Eliza is surprised to find reserves of inner strength—and a chance at personal transformation—through her ordeal. The first-person narration is punctuated with excerpts and sketches from Eliza’s journal. Except for one character with brown skin, the nonglowing cast defaults to white. Warring themes and elements give this outing a distinct feel of multiple stories yoked together by violence.

Melodramatic but definitively all over the place contentwise. (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-23007-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Point/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A well-knit debut generously stocked with chills, thrills, and chancy exploits.


A young British teenager’s ordinary world takes a sudden spin to the dark side with the arrival of an antique toy robot that turns out to conceal a terrible, and terrifying, power.

Hardly has Alex unpacked the robot sent by his grandfather than he cuts himself on a sharp edge so that a little blood seeps into its workings. Cue the weirdness, starting with a homework assignment he doesn’t remember finishing and a bully who inexplicably beats a sudden retreat. It quickly escalates into a headlong flight with his grandad and a running fight with a squad of varied but uniformly scary automatons fueled themselves by blood. What’s up? Alex’s robot, it turns out, was crafted to hide a tablet inscribed with the secret name of God that Rabbi Loew used to animate his legendary golem…and nefarious parties are out to revive the clay monster for—well, nothing good. Confused, terror-stricken, and inarticulate throughout, Alex comes off as a pale character next to his creepy adversaries and, in particular, his dapper, glib, secretive, martially adroit, scene-stealing grandfather. Still, as events move along apace, he proves surprisingly resourceful. Love tucks in plenty of icky bits, along with cinematic set pieces and hairbreadth escapes, and he strews enough tantalizing hints about his protagonist’s murky past to excite interest in sequels. The human cast presents white.

A well-knit debut generously stocked with chills, thrills, and chancy exploits. (Horror/suspense/fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-47858-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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