Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone review – an action-packed adventure

Ice Queen meets Fur tribe in a warm and exciting tale about the magic of wilderness

Abi Elphinstone’s new novel begins with a memorable image: a girl crouches, frozen, under the glass dome of a music box, unable to move or speak, witnessing horrors in a winter palace, determined to escape and regain her unique voice.

Best known for her Dreamsnatcher trilogy, Elphinstone’s latest novel is an action-packed adventure and a truly magical tale (in both senses), set in the icy north. Erkenwald is a land of mountains, forests and glaciers; it is home to polar bears, eagles, whales and wolves, as well as to the Fur, Feather and Tusk tribes. In Elphinstone’s well-orchestrated mythology, the North Star, a Sky God “carved from stardust”, breathed life into the land that still retains traces of the magic of its creation. But “darkness can come to any kingdom and so it came to Erkenwald”.

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The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue review – it’s a family affair

Big is beautiful in the Room author’s tale of seven children, four parents (and a three-legged dog) who follow their dreams Emma Donoghue, the award-winning novelist best known for Room, has made her first foray into children’s fiction. The Lotterys Plus One is set in cosmopolitan Toronto and features a household that embodies diversity and respect for the planet. It’s a tale that’s funny, heartwarming and quietly provocative. There is a huge difference between writing about children and for children. In sharp contrast to the grim tale of five-year-old Jack and his virtuoso narration of Room, Donoghue’s latest novel is full of warmth and light, its third-person perspective introducing us to a large and, in some respects, utopian family unit. The Lotterys are people “who like to say why not?” There are two sets of committed same-sex parents (of different ethnicities), seven children, mostly adopted (ditto), and their ...

Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans review – a properly funny fantasy adventure

Wit, wisdom and colourful characters abound in a tale of two troubled children who stumble on a surreal land ruled by a toy rabbit Lissa Evans’s latest novel is properly funny. And like the four-year-old owner of the eponymous toy rabbit, Minnie (short for Minerva), who can’t pronounce her r’s, this book is also deceptively wise. Small Change for Stuart, Evans’s first children’s novel, was shortlisted for the Carnegie medal and the Costa children’s book award. One can imagine the elevator pitch for this new story: Alice in Wonderland meets Pixar’s Inside Out, perhaps, with a dash of Animal Farm, bearing in mind the animal dictator who has taken over Evans’s fantasy kingdom. Wed Wabbit belongs to a proud tradition of children’s fiction that uses fantasy and humour to convey complex and difficult ideas in a form that delights. The fantasy element, which makes up the greater ...

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton review – a mythical, gun-slinging desert adventure

Hamilton weaves together a winning combination of familiar fantasy tropes in an exciting story starring a plucky 16-year-old heroine Alwyn Hamilton’s debut novel is a high-concept, and highly enjoyable, epic fantasy adventure for young adults. Picture a gun-slinging, hard-drinking wild west, transpose it on to a sweeping, romantic desert, then add a rebel prince bent on overthrowing a wicked sultan, and a little magic in the manner of A Thousand and One Nights. It’s a winning combination. Sixteen-year-old heroine Amani Al’Hiza narrates the story as, opening the tale with an exciting set piece, Hamilton sets a gutsy pace that rarely slows. Determined to get out of Deadshot, a town in which everyone is dirt poor and the only work is at the explosives factory that feeds the Sultan’s warmongering appetite, Amani has sneaked out one night, dressed as a boy. She is intent on entering a competition in a disreputable ...

Silence Is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher review – the quiet girl expresses herself

An absorbing account of a teenager whose anger, pain and sense of powerlessness eventually give her the strength to protest

Annabel Pitcher is a YA novelist whose voice is irresistibly warm and sympathetic, drawing the reader effortlessly into her characters’ inner worlds. She writes about troubling issues with a light, often humorous, touch, and in prose that is easy on the ear and deceptively simple. Her debut, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, which portrayed a family torn apart by an act of terrorism, earned her the Branford Boase award and an international readership. Ketchup Clouds, her second novel (winner of the Waterstones children’s book prize), featured a teenager corresponding with a prisoner on death row.

Her latest YA offering portrays an introverted 15-year-old girl’s struggle to regain her emotional wellbeing. Her subject is, as the title suggests, silence – though not in the sense of an ...

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness review – a surreal coming-of-age novel

Growing up with demigods and zombie deer, the 17-year-old narrator takes tentative steps towards adulthood in this smart, funny YA novel

Patrick Ness’s inner teenager is strong – something the twice-Carnegie-winning author used to great effect in his outstanding Chaos Walking trilogy and, more recently, in his foray into the afterlife, More Than This. In his latest, more playful YA novel, Ness introduces us to Mikey, an anxious 17-year-old whose supple tone – at once wry, perceptive and intimate – keeps the pages turning. Mikey worries about the things everyone on the verge of adulthood worries about: love, relationships, sex, popularity, parents, the future, not to mention what it all means.

He has a lot on his plate: his father is a drunk; an eating disorder nearly killed his sister; his mother is preoccupied with work; his grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease; his feelings for his best friend Jared and the beautiful Henna ...