Book Review: SKANDAR AND THE UNICORN THIEF by A. F. Steadman (Middle Grade Monday)

Title in white on orange image of unicorn with wings
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: MG
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes - first book

Blurb:

Book cover for SKANDAR AND THE UNICORN THIEF: title in yellow above boy flying on winged unicorn on orrange

Skandar Smith has always yearned to leave the Mainland and escape to the secretive Island, where wild unicorns roam free. He’s spent years studying for his Hatchery exam, the annual test that selects a handful of Mainlander thirteen-year-olds to train to become unicorn riders. But on the day of Skandar’s exam, things go horribly wrong, and his hopes are shattered…until a mysterious figure knocks on his door at midnight, bearing a message: the Island is in peril and Skandar must answer its call.

Skandar is thrust into a world of epic sky battles, dangerous clashes with wild unicorns, and rumors of a shadowy villain amassing a unicorn army. And the closer Skandar grows to his newfound friends and community of riders, the harder it becomes to keep his secrets—especially when he discovers their lives may all be in graver danger than he ever imagined.

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

SKANDAR AND THE UNICORN THIEF is a fun, thrill-filled ride of elemental magic, mysterious enemies, reluctant friends, and threats from all sides.

Unicorns are real, and they’re dangerous. This is a very different take on unicorns to the fluffy rainbows you usually see (which is actually referenced in the book.) As you can see from the cover, they’re a mix between a unicorn and a pegasus – and they also give their riders magic.

It’s a nice set up. Magical training school, cast of characters who are sort of thrown together by circumstance and have varying levels of difficulty getting along. There are also various hierarchies based on luck (did you get a “good” unicorn?), skill, and birth (islander or ignorant mainlander?) It adds a lot of different tensions for Skandar to navigate in order to make friends and survive the school.

Skandar’s magic is forbidden, so he has to try and hide it – and find out more about it, even though everyone is doing their very best not to tell him anything, even those who have cause to be on his side. Plus there’s a Weaver (rogue rider) running around kidnapping people and putting his family in danger. Tricky trying to save those you love when you have to hide your abilities.

I did appreciate that some of the things that felt like world building holes to create plot (like the exams) were addressed and the reasons filled in so it made more sense. It didn’t just try to skate over events that were good stakes without finding a reason (mostly) for them to fit into the book. There were still a few things that felt like logical fallacies (like, if you’re worrying about defending the place, why send people away with the unicorn can’t control “well enough” rather than training them more so they’re not a danger?)

In all, it was an enjoyable read and I will definitely read the next instalment.

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