One of the perks of being a bookseller is ‘book post’. Sometimes you can ask a publisher for a particular book; occasionally, one lands in the staff room unexpectedly. Rarely do they arrive be-ribboned and including hot chocolate!
So, yes, I was expecting Emma Carroll’s new novel, Sky Chasers, to be something special. And, no, I wasn’t disappointed.
Having read a few of Emma’s previous novels, I knew I would be in for a good, steady story with an emotional heart. (And the delicious hot chocolate made me feel even warmer inside!)
Working on a prize-winning idea by Neal Jackson and drawing on historical events, Emma Carroll has created a fun adventure about flight, family, friends and the French (sorry, couldn’t resist the alliteration!).
Magpie is a petty thief. As an orphan on the streets of Annonay, southern France, in 1783, she has no choice. With the assistance of her pet rooster, Coco, she is ‘commissioned’ to steal a particular document box from the house of the Montgolfier family by a commanding lady of the name Delacroix. (Coco is less of a hindrance than you might think; he doesn’t crow. Yet.)
Needless to say, it doesn’t work out according to plan. Magpie ends up more involved with the lives of the Montgolfier household than just one night’s thievery, befriending their son, Pierre, his pet goose, Voltaire, and Lancelot, the most endearing sheep in literature I have yet to meet.
Pierre’s father is working on a flying machine – la balloon – and Magpie and Pierre become – literally – entwined in his prototypes, eventually leading them to a very public display in front of the King himself.
This is an exciting adventure story. It romps along at a heady pace, blown by the wind of the story. I loved Magpie’s character: feisty, strong, as good as any boy – and often better. She is not ashamed of being a different colour to those around her; just as her poverty doesn’t diminish her spirit, neither does her ethnicity. Pierre is a sweet boy and his friendship with Magpie develops well. But it is the animal characters who are most memorable. The (almost) silent Coco who is petted like a cat by Magpie; Pierre’s pet goose, Voltaire, who is fiercely protective (and loud); Lancelot who behaves like a curly-haired, nibbling dog and ends up being the star of the show.
Despite being a historical adventure, this reads like a contemporary story. Magpie’s first-person narration gives it an immediacy which keeps up the fast pace. There is thievery, duelling, cross-dressing and royal cameo appearances; enough to keep any young reader entertained.
Many thanks to Jazz at Chicken House Books for the gorgeously packaged advanced copy. A festive treat indeed!