Tuesday 26 December 2017

Book Review: 'Sky Song' by Abi Elphinstone

Once you've understood the particular brand of magic (which is not believed in even by many of the inhabitants of Abi Elphinstone's new fantasy world) you'll be taken on an adventure of discovery, unity and salvation. An evil queen is taking the voices of the icy land's adult subjects (literally in the story, but this metaphor would be exciting to explore with young readers) in order to gain immortality and Eska, although initially imprisoned, must do something about it.

Sky Song capers around the fringes of what has been termed Theological Fantasy with its undertone of the importance of belief, yet Elphinstone has no religious agenda to push. It plays with concepts from Greek and Roman mythology, traditional fairy tales and some more recent literary triumphs and blends them cohesively for a younger audience, than say, His Dark Materials was intended for. 

Whilst Erkenwald definitely feels like a realm that could be further explored, Eska and her eagle companion Balapan certainly give it a good initial once-over, encountering on the way, in the manner of all good expeditions, a number of problems which they must overcome, often with the help of Flint, his puppy pebble and his sister, Blu. The animal companions and the magic ways that some of the group's problems are solved definitely aim this book squarely at 8 to 10 year olds.

But this story, like all the best books, does more than just describe an adventure. It speaks of growing up and discovering one's own capabilities, facing adversity and the importance of companionship and collaboration. Sky Song is an important lesson in why tribalism, whilst comfortable, will not save the day - a political message that might give children a starting point to thinking about what their role on the world stage might be. Flint's character provides hope that people can change their ideological views in order to become more mindful of others. The character of his sister Blu, based on Elphinstone's own relative who has Down's Syndrome, is also a possible discussion starter for readers to explore and change their thoughts about those with genetic disorders and resulting learning difficulties.

Children who were a few years ago obsessed with Frozen, or those who have recently discovered and loved the more accessible parts of Narnia, or those looking to move on from reading short myths and fairy tales will find their perfect next book in Sky Song. Fans of Abi Elphinstone's Molly Pecksniff character will find another well-rounded female lead character to follow and be inspired by. With Sky Song, Abi Elphinstone invites her young readers into a new and exciting world which will not only thrill and entertain but might set children on the path to discover more of the brilliant fantasy fiction available for advancing readers.

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