ARC Review: SKYBORN by Sinéad O’Hart (Middle Grade Monday)

I received an eARC from the publishers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Title in white on maroon with boy in cream leaping
Genre: Adventure/fantasy?
Age Range: MG
Star Rating: 3.5 stars
Series: standalone

Synopsis:

Book cover for SKYBORN: title in white on plum with a boy in cream clothing leaping beneath

The circus has seen better days, but for Bastjan it’s home. He will do anything he can to save it, even if it means participating in a death-defying new act. But when that fails to draw in the crowds, the ringmaster makes a deal with a mysterious man by the name of Dr Bauer.

In exchange for his help, Bauer wants a box that belonged to Bastjan’s mother and came from her birthplace – the faraway island of Melita. Bastjan is desperate to keep his only memento of his mother out of Bauer’s hands. And as he uncovers more about the strange objects contained within, he realizes it’s not only the circus that’s in terrible danger…

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

I’m not entirely sure what this book’s genre is. It’s definitely an alternate world – some places have the same name (Oxford) but others don’t (Afrik.) There are shapeshifters and airships (I also couldn’t tell you when this book is vaguely meant to be set beyond “Victorian or later”, thanks to the newspapers and trains)

It’s sort of fantasy, but very light on the fantasy elements. Instead, I think it would be called “Action and Adventure”, which is a pretty broad genre that’s only really found in MG (things tend to slot more neatly into other genres as the age range increases, partly due to the market.) The main defining element is the adventure the lead goes on, with a physical journey as a major component. Think Enid Blyton’s Secret Series.

SKYBORN features a not-quite-comfortable life getting upended and steadily worse, the arrival of a new character with problems of her own who becomes a friend, a journey first with people who are known and then being separated from them, a mission to set matters right that requires more travelling. It’s a nice collection of ideas, with a quiet inner journey to compliment the outer one.

It’s not the sort of internal character change that stands out a mile and is a major focus of the book. I’d be hard-pressed to put into words exactly how Bastjan changed across the book, but he didn’t feel the same at the end as he did at the start. And that’s OK – it wasn’t the focus of the story, but rather the natural progression of what would happen to someone who’s been through an adventure (that wasn’t always pleasant) of this magnitude.

The ringmaster is a really satisfying villain as he’s so human in his horribleness. His motivation to save the circus (by what he considers the only meaningful metric – money) at any cost is just too believable. He will bully and trample on anyone he needs to in order to meet his ends, seeing the people who make up the circus as nothing more than expendable tools.

Most of the story is told from Bastjan’s perspective, but his new friend Alice narrates for a bit, and then there are one or two scenes from a slipskin’s perspective (plus the prologue from Bastjan’s mother.) The ending then slipped from third person past to first person present, which was rather jarring and I’m not quite sure what purpose it was meant to be serving narratively, as I just really struggled to get into it, which is a pity as it was the last chapter, and so tying everything up.

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