London, Hot Keys, 2013, 267p
I have confessed in the past that I am not great with teenage fantasy, particulary when it is not written very well and it is impossible to visualise the action. However, Sky Run is far from the usual fantasy fiction - it is funny, original, and has a lesson to teach the reader.
Gemma and Martin are travelling with their Gran to start school. They have grown up in isolation on a floating island in a dystopian future where the world has been shattered into small flecks of land orbitting the sun. Gran thinks the kids would benefit from some real-life experience and the opportunity to meet other children. On the journey, the threesome face strange dangers and meet perculiar people: sky-sharks and cloud-hunters and an island of people high on kelp. With each leg of their journey, Martin and Gemma learn something new about the world of which they had previously seen so little.
I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed this novel, but I think I can pin my adoration down to the characters. The book is narrated by each of the family members, starting with Gran, a tough, brave, street-wise old woman of one hundred and twenty years. She loves the kids dearly, despite her initial reluctance to take them on when the orphans turned up on her island. When it came to the end of her monologue, I was apprehensive about reading the voices of Gemma and Martin because Gran had been so welcoming and entertaining, but the children proved to be just as interesting. Martin is a curious, sometimes naive boy, whilst Gemma has the appearance of being tough as nails but is secretly a softy.
Along the way, the people they meet teach the children something new about the world. They learn not to judge people by first appearances, that an island called 'Friendly' is far from friendly, and that rats like the smell of young boys. They also pick up some strays along the way - a warrior, taken from his family and trained as a soldier, but now alone; and a young girl who has read all the books in her father's home a million times. City Island is handing out free education to all who want it, and these individuals hugely value the opportunity.
Sky Run is an uplifting novel that takes you on a fascinating and educational journey through a strange world; but what I love most is the characters, who welcome you into their adventure with open arms.