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Book Review: The Sky Village by Monk and Nigel Ashland

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The cover of The Sky Village is wonderfully mysterious and drew my eye immediately. The forthcoming paperback edition makes even more of this brilliant image. My imagination seems to catch fire every time I’m offered a peek or romp through a new world. Not only does the cover offer this, but the story delivers on that promise.

Written for the 9 to 12-year old crowd, the book offers a lot of adventure for consenting adults as well. With the deluge of great books offered for kids these days, I find my reading time torn between adult and juvenile fiction. The Sky Village will capture the attention of new science fiction readers as well as more experienced ones.

The authors, Monk and Nigel Ashland, have written a wonderful adventure filled with lean prose and characters just deep enough to think about. The illustrations by Jeff Nentrup bring the world to life and provide more visuals. That, apparently, was done by design. Judging from the book and authors’ website, they intend to take the property to a cartoon or movie franchise. I would be happy to see them do either or both. I think this could be a successful transition.

I had to invest a little bit of time and effort into the book before it fully came to life for me. The beginning is interesting because Mei is being given to the sky village people by her father so he can go in search of her mother, who is missing and presumed dead or captured by the meks. Mei’s situation is easily empathetic and will draw young readers in instantly to find out what happens to her next. The sky people live over what used to be China.

I was more curious about the sky village because the idea of people living suspended from hot air balloons and never touching the ground intrigued me. I can’t wait for my 11-year old to read this book. As soon as he does, I’m sure he will have plans underway to build our own balloon in the backyard. Good books do that to people.

The fish out of water plot involving Mei is an old standby in fiction, and it works well in this book. But the authors keep up a frantic pace to move their readers along and lay out the groundwork of this new world. I wanted to know more about how the sky village worked, how they went through their day to day life. I didn’t find out everything I wanted to know, so that alone will pull me back into the next book.

When her father leaves her, Mei is also given a mysterious book. Her mother and father read her stories from the book when she was little, but they never allowed her to handle the book herself. Most of the stories were about a boy named Breaker. After she opens it, she discovers that the book is part of the technology that was lost after the world was destroyed by the meks. It’s a threat, but Mei also believes it could be the key to something wondrous.

While working in the sky village, Mei offends the sky villagers’ greatest allies, the birds. She doesn’t understand how that happens, but thinks it must be because she has the blood of humans, beasts, and meks in her DNA.

Meanwhile, in what used to be Las Vegas, a young boy named Rom struggles daily to provide for his younger sister Riley by scavenging leftover tech. He also has a copy of the mysterious book. It’s called the Tree Book and it’s supposed to allow special children around the world communicate with each other. The purpose of this is hinted at throughout the book, but it remains to be seen what purpose it actually serves.

Rom’s world is well described and dangerous as well. He has a special ability as well, part of his strange genetic background. He’s linked to humans, beasts, and meks the same way Mei is. In the underground world below Las Vegas, Rom learns to “summon” a mechanical demon that has to fight in an arena. This concept is sure to catch hold of the imaginations of young boys. I really like the idea of being able to walk into a salvage yard and raising a mechanical fighter out of all the junk I found there. Hopefully, there will be more exploration of Rom’s powers.

The authors cut back and forth between Mei and Rom, pushing the adventures of both to the brink and leaving the readers hanging from chapter to chapter. Once I got started, I had a hard time putting the book down. I finished it in three sittings and could have read it in one if I hadn’t been so busy.

Both characters are easily understood by the young crowd and empathized with by adults. This is a book that parents and children can each read, then sit down and talk about. The action is fun and exciting, and easy to visualize. If you have a reluctant reader in your house, The Sky Village would be a great book to encourage that kid to read.

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