The Children’s Book Review | April 28, 2017
Written by S. F. Said
Illustrated by Dave McKean
Age Range: 10-16
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press (2016)
What to Expect: Aliens, Space Travel, Coming of Age Story
What makes a good Sci-Fi story? A good range of exotic aliens, alien atmospheres and planets, space-ships, technologies, and science would seem the obvious answer, and these are all important elements in this classic genre of children’s and adult’s literature. Even more, important to my way of thinking, however, is the way in which the best science fiction explores what it means to be human. Classics of the genre – those which have stood the test of time, such as Mortal Engines or Day of the Triffids are not so much about what changes in science and technology, as they are about what remains the same in human nature. S. F. Said’s new middle-grade science-fiction novel Phoenix excels in this area, combining fascinating landscapes, characters, and science with exploration of what it fundamentally means to be human.
Lucky is just a normal kid living with his mom on Phoenix, a moon of the planet Aries One. Although humanity is currently at war with a terrifying race of cloven-hooved and horned aliens, the war has not reached Lucky’s sleepy home-planet, and Lucky is more concerned with missing his absent father than with worrying about Alien attacks. However, Lucky is not quite as normal as he seems: when a dream of touching the stars wakes him to find his bedclothes on fire, Luke is suddenly ripped from the safety of his home and what he thinks he knows as his mother begins a frantic attempt to flee the planet and drag Lucky away from a threat she refuses to name. Then his mother is killed, and Lucky finds himself fleeing home and the terrifying Shadow Guards in the company of a renegade group of Alien refugees, uncertain of who his enemies are, where he is going, and – most importantly – who, or what, he is. It seems that Lucky’s dream was the beginning of a blossoming new power, which could potentially end the war and save humanity – if he can learn how to control it.
Perhaps my favorite element of this novel is the series of black-and-white star-scapes which illustrate the novel throughout. Dramatic and haunting, these illustrations are not detailed enough to detract from the reader’s pleasure of imagining these new worlds for him or herself; beautiful and abstract, they add an extra element of strangeness to the story. For readers who have been enthralled by what sci-fi has to offer, this is a fantastic new offering.
About the Author
SF Said is the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize–winning author of Varjak Paw. He was born in Lebanon in 1967, but has lived in London since he was two years old.
About the Illustrator
Dave McKean is a world-renowned artist, designer, and film director who has illustrated several books for children, including Coraline by Neil Gaiman, The Savage by David Almond, and Varjak Paw by SF Said. Dave McKean lives in England.
Phoenix, by S. F. Said and Dave McKean, was reviewed by Dr. Jen Harrison. Discover more books like Phoenix by following along with our reviews and articles tagged with Christopher Silas Neal, Kate Messner, Natural History Books, and Nature Studies.