A girl with a missing arm must question everything she knows to save her brother.
The poverty-stricken citizens of Coal Top, high atop Forgotten Mountain, must “live the stories [they’re] given.” Once upon a time, Weavers wove wonderful dreams from starlight—until clouds of mood-darkening Dust blotted the stars. Now, by order of the ruling, all-male Guardians, boys must labor in the mines Down Below, and girls become maids for rich valley families. But 12-year-old Mallie Ramble, a self-described “fire-popper in a glass jar” with an orange prosthetic arm (a “universal color” that matches no one’s actual skin tone), vows to save her sweet-as-pie little brother from laboring Down Below to pay the Rambles’ debts. With remarkable luck, Mallie joins a group of “brave and wiry young fellers” invited to risk their lives on flying horses for chances at “riches untold.” Her realistic self-consciousness must become self-confidence, however, when she discovers a nefarious plot. Despite occasionally lyrical turns of phrase, Lloyd ultimately leaves little for readers to imagine. Heroes are as distinct from villains as starlight is from Dust; the simplistic contrast of pure good and pure evil turns the ending trite and cloyingly sweet. Though Mallie says she’s “met all kinds of people, who look all kinds of different ways,” racial distinctions are largely unspoken; a gender-nonconforming secondary character with two different-colored eyes is 3 feet tall.
The themes of facing fears and questioning authority are laudable, but even a feisty disabled narrator on a flying horse can’t quite soar over their heavy-handed execution. (Fantasy. 8-12)