The Ship of Shadows – Maria Kuzniar
There’s a lot of originality and fun in this book and I like that it’s girls and women on a magical ship, but I did find it quite slow. While there are exciting events, they don’t always hang together and build tension, so the pace doesn’t pick up as you go – in fact I found the book lacked tension altogether.
I think this is because the goal felt unclear. We find out about halfway through that they’re seeking a magic map, but it’s not explained why (unless I missed a fleeting reference somewhere). It’s not for treasure; they land on a treasure island in one chapter, stuff their pockets and everything else with diamonds, rubies, and so on, and then that’s never mentioned again. It’s not to find a magical city – they find the city (and are attacked by an army of skeletons, so be wary of that if your child isn’t a fan of the more “horror” end of things, like the film The Mummy) – but they’re only looking for the city to get a piece of the map. Also the shadows on the ship – we’re told the shadows are the secret to the ship’s magic, but that wasn’t enough to get me emotionally involved in it. Aleja, the main character, does acquire a little shadow “pet” but as with the other shadows, I’m not sure what the significance was.
Aleja is an inquisitive, intelligent, and brave girl, but doesn’t seem that bothered about leaving her family. Even at the end, she’s still in the same place emotionally – trying to decide between having adventures and going home. What she wants is to have an adventure and become a pirate and she does, but that feels thin, not something that I as a reader could get caught up in.
The book’s time is also confusing – initially I thought it was present day, then historical, then just conveniently “other time” – maybe steampunk is the genre. The diversity of characters is a plus.
Different things happen – magic rooms appearing in the ship, a kraken attack, a trip to a souk, the treasure island – but overall the events have the feel of “stuff” and don’t bring a lot of forward movement to the plot. There’s a pirate hunter but he doesn’t appear much and is easily overcome when he does, so there’s not much there in terms of conflict or a race to find whatever they’re looking for. While the writing is enjoyable with a lot of vivid imagery, it’s also a wordy book, and in places some of the sentences feel contorted by a dive into a thesaurus.
I see other reviewers enjoyed it more than I did, so perhaps I’m missing something. For me though there’s more glitter than gold in this pirate adventure.
The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar
Published by Puffin Books in July 2020
Middle Grade (9-12 years old)