This book is basically Harry Potter in space. Actually, this a really good thing: it’s such a fun concept, you wish you’d thought of it yourself. Linda David’s heroine, Thea, is an 11-year old who is less than impressed when her summer holiday to the Caribbean is cancelled and she is instead sent to spend the summer with her grandfather. At first Thea is a bravely unsympathetic character – a petulant, mean snobby pain – but then she uncovers her grandfather’s alien crystal, and sets off a chain of events that leads to her enrolling in the ‘Inter-Planetary Education Programme’ and being sent off to the Firestone Academy on the planet Aruuliah.
To be honest, the book starts a little clunkily. David is not a great writer of prose, and needs someone to take a red pen to her clichés. I noted a whirlwind romance, dropped bombshells, ‘keeping the peace’, silent treatment and frosty silence before I gave up noting them down. There are lots of clumsy, unnecessary adverbs: ‘he conceded grudgingly’; ‘reluctantly he forced himself’, ‘suddenly she gave a sharp intake of breath.’ However, once Thea goes into space the novel takes off brilliantly, and I fully enjoyed its inventive, fun world. Aruuliah has a violet sky and a red sun, stink-bugs, triangular pink and orange fruit and slime-storms. Beds are made at a push of a button; there is a ‘duplicating food machine’ and kids snack on ‘Sonic Boom-Pop’ and ‘Milky Moonlight-Madness’ (which makes your head swell and glow like a moon.)
This novel also approaches race in a very interesting and nuanced way. Thea herself is black, and never fitted in at school on earth amongst her white class-mates. At the space school, alien children from all over the galaxy are taught cultural tolerance. It is populated by humanoids that have evolved in different ways according to their planet’s environment – Thea soon makes friends with the cat-like Annalije – and she has to overcome the prejudices of some who see earthlings as ‘primitive’. Students manage to communicate due to a ‘Universal Speech Deciphering Device’ and there is a great scene where it is sabotaged and the school descends into Babel.
Young readers are sure to enjoy the lessons – the school teaches telepathy, meditation and astral projection. There are some cool creatures called Sprogletts, given to students to teach them about evolution, that grow differently depending on where you put them – with gills if they’re placed by water, for example – and who also develop depending on their owners’ emotions, making them a little like Philip Pullman’s daemons. And of course, Harry Potterisms abound. Instead of Quidditch, there is Dodge Ball, a game with soft, exploding balls full of mucus. Instead of the sorting hat students go through a gate and seem to be divided according the colour of their auras. The good news is that Linda David has also imitated the Harry Potter model in mixing humour with a thrilling plot (involving dark matter and an attempt to control the universe), and, ends with a great, Rowling-esque twist.
Overall, despite some dodgy prose and a few niggles (such as the fact I found it very hard to find quotations for this review, as the book doesn’t have an active Table of Contents) this is a joyous piece of sci-fi escapism with an important message about racial tolerance at its heart.
Reviewed by Evie Glass
Available in Kindle format
Find out more about Linda David