A futuristic steampunky, piratical middle grade adventure? Give it to me now! This is one I’d been looking forward to ever since Charlotte wrote about it, and was very happy to see it nominated for the Cybils.
by Joel Ross. Harper, 2015.
In a far future, most of the Earth has been taken over by the Fog, composed of deadly nanites that turned against humans. Now humans live high up on mountains – the richer, the higher up. 13-year-old Chess is one of a crew of young scavengers who make their living flying over the fog on patched-together airships, while Chess dives down through the fog looking for valuables left over from the old civilization to sell.
The ship’s crew is made up of other orphans like himself, headed by 15-year Hazel, described and shown on the cover as Black. Big strong Swedish provides the muscle, while tiny, red-headed Bea is both the ship’s gearslinger and the darling of the crew. Chess has one eye that seems to be filled with the swirling fog, which his crew thinks is why he’s never come down with the fog sickness that everyone else gets if they spend too long near the ground. Miss E., the adult who brought the crew of orphans together, is now badly sick with it, and the kids are determined to find enough to save her and for all of them to make it out of the junkyard.
Chess is on his way up from a particularly valuable find when their ship is attacked by adult pirates from a rival settlement. Even though it’s the one they’re hoping to emigrate to, the ship’s captains don’t look on them kindly. Things go from bad to worse as they learn that the evil Lord Kodoc, ruler of their settlement, is looking for a child Chess’s age with a cloudy eye. Can they escape? Will they be able to save Miss E.?
The basic plot is straightforward enough – kid with special ability trying to get away from the bad guy who wants to misuse it – but the result is fresh and so much fun. The world is novel, with recognizable bits of our own culture warped so that they no longer make sense, like the talking cats called Hello Kitties. Most of all, the ensemble cast is a perfect found family, each member contributing to the whole and supporting the rest with a believable amount of tension. Ross fits in an impressive amount of character development given how much time characters spend treasure-hunting and escaping enemies. With the nice blend of gears, humor, adventure and likeable characters, it felt as if it was custom-written for my son and I to enjoy together. I haven’t read it to him yet, but read it in less than a day myself. This would be a great choice for any adventure-loving kid.