Abandoned as a baby on the planet Remota, deep in the seventh solar system, Jake Cutler lives a sheltered life. But all that changes when his home is invaded by ruthless space pirates with just one target: him.
Soon Jake is on the run with a bounty hunter and the suspicious-looking crew of a spaceship called the Dark Horse. Forced to contend with zero-gravity, shipwrecks and black holes, Jake must discover the truth about his past before he is hunted down and caught. And as for the crew of the Dark Horse, could there be more to his new-found friends than meets the eye?
The action-packed first book in the Spacejackers trilogy is full of aliens, space monsters, gadgets, battleships - and one boy's search for his destiny.
In the (very nearly) five years that I have been writing this blog I have lost count of the number of times that I have bemoaned the dearth of space-set books for middle grade (and young adult) readers. It is something that I struggle to understand, especially where younger readers are concerned as kids, and boys in particular, love space and aliens. In fact, until recently I could only name two examples published in the last five years: Space Crime Conspiracy by Gareth P. Jones and the wonderful Johnny Mackintosh trilogy by Keith Mansfield (apologies to any authors if I have made any glaring omissions).
Assuming agents, editors and publishers know their onions (and I believe they do), the only conclusion I can come to is that in recent years space-set books have been considered uncool and were not big sellers. However,a handful of releases from the past twelve months may suggest that this is no longer the case, and with Guardians of the Galaxy being a huge success in cinemas, and the planned new Star Wars films, perhaps we are at the start of a renaissance for children's stories set in space. First up, August 2013 saw the release of the brilliant Phoenix by S.F. Said (recently announced as being on the shortlist for the 2014 Guardian Children's Fiction prize), and more recently Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre released their wonderful Cakes in Space. And between the two of these, released back in July, is this little beauty: Spacejackers by Huw Powell. (*edit: Huw has kindly reminded me about another fairly recently published book: Harvey Drew and the Bin Men from Outer Space).
Spacejackers is the kind of book I wish had been around back at the tail end of the 1970s/early 1980s. Like many boys of my age at the time, I was Star Wars mad, but sadly there were very few fiction books around aimed at my age group, and I had to make do with the novelisations of the Star Wars films, the spin-off Splinter of the Mind's Eye, and the novelisation of Battlestar Galactica. If Spacejackers had been around back then I would have been one very happy boy indeed, as it has everything that attracted that 8-10 year old boy to Star Wars: action, adventure, space battles, colourful characters (some of whom are space pirates FTW!), and an orphaned boy in search of answers to his past, and his future destiny. All of this is delivered at a pace that will keep even the most reluctant of readers wanting to read well past his/her bedtime.
Spacejackers isn't perfect - despite some great characters, their development is not as complete as some might wish for and others may find the plot a thin in places (by which, I'm meaning stuffy old teachers and kill-joy adult critics), but in this case it does not matter a jot. Reading, especially for this Middle Grade age range, should be Fun (capital F intended). It should be Exciting (ditto). This is such a critical age in the life of a child, and if they aren't book lovers by the time they reach young adulthood, then they may not be until they become adults, or even worse, never at all. We need more books like this, that are just pure escapist fun. Especially (says the 10 year old me) when they are set in space!
My thanks go to the fab people at Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of Spacejackers.