Skandar and the Unicorn Thief -- Middle Grades Fantasy Novel Review


Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Did you go through a unicorn phase? I remember loving unicorns in middle school. In fact one of my graphic arts projects in middle school was screen printing a unicorn on a mirror. I had the mirror for a very long time and may still. I'm not sure where it is though. I remember seeing it when my parents moved during college. Unicorns have become a big thing. They are always cute and sparkly. They apparently poop rainbows now. And every animal can become a type of unicorn. I see the marketing for a caticorn or llamacorn. Have you seen it? Let's face it today's kids are going crazy for anything unicorn. Today I get to share a new middle grade fantasy novel. It is described as a book for Percy Jackson fans, and I wholeheartedly agree. The book is about a world with unicorns, but unicorns are not what we think they are. The book is Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by A.F. Steadman. It is the first book in a series that will be extremely popular!! It has an 8- to 12-year-old reading level. 

From the Publisher:

Soar into a breathtaking world of heroes and unicorns as you’ve never seen them before in this fantastical middle grade debut perfect for fans of the Percy Jackson and Eragon series!

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.

From Me:

 "Unicorns don't belong in fairy tales; they belong in nightmares." is printed in large gold letters on the back of my advanced reader copy of the book. It is the beginning of the summary of the book on the inside cover of the actual book. Right there it draws a unicorn lover in. The world in this book is our world. One island has all the unicorns and the people on the island do not seem to leave or go to the mainland. We do not know what the mainland is, but countries are mentioned like the United Kingdom. Unicorns are bloodthirsty beasts. If they are not bonded with a rider than they grow wild and kill anything with blood. These aren't the unicorns of my childhood. In fact it is mentioned in the book how the people on the mainland once had what we think of as unicorns and all those products, books, etc. aren't around now that they truly know what unicorns are like. 

Skandar is thirteen. His mother is dead. He doesn't remember her. His father is in a state of depression and alcoholism. His older sister (by one year), Kenna, and he try to take care of each other as well as their father. Money is tight since their father cannot keep a job. All Skandar and Kenna have dreamed of is to be a unicorn rider. The money given to the family would help save their father. Kenna fails the test and is not able to see if she has a bonded unicorn. Now it is Skandar's turn. He is the sibling who is weak, and he depends on Kenna to protect him. Kenna is the smart one. Skandar is picked on at school and doesn't have friends. When his opportunity comes, he is bonded with a unicorn, but discovers he and his unicorn are aligned to a fifth element that is nicknamed the death element. It is an illegal element. Now he has to trust his new friends, his only friends, into helping him hide it. 

The story has adventure as well as side stories of friendship. It is a magical world with so many different parts from family, love, and more. I can see this book and series becoming just as popular as Percy Jackson and others. The characters are well developed, and you feel for each one. The story itself takes many twists and turns. At times you will be guessing some of the mystery and at other times you will be completely surprised by what happens. It is a book that is hard to put down and kids will truly enjoy reading. I love that the group of friends is diverse as well as consists of both boys and girls. It is not a book that will pull one gender versus another. There is so much growth in the characters and stories about each one.

The book is wonderful by itself, but I will admit I cannot wait for a second book! The book also can lead to many group discussions if read for a book club or class. There are questions of ethics, friendships and so much more. In fact you can download a Reading Group Guide from Simon and Schuster's website. (It is under the Resources and Downloads.)