By Abi Elphinstone
Published by Simon and Schuster
ISBN 978 1471146077
Behind the messy cover and trite title of Abi Elphinstone’s latest YA saga lies an action-packed adventure set in a wonderfully imagined frozen world. Elphinstone has shown in her previous novels that she is an expert world-builder, and in Sky Song she surpasses the cinematic standards she had already set herself.
The land of Erkenwald is an icy wilderness of mountains, forests and glaciers, home to polar bears, whales, wolves, and golden eagles. It is also home to the Feather, Fur, and Tusk tribes who hunt on sleds, and whose rivalries and differences are buried deep in the snowy wastes.
Elphinstone begins her novel with a four-page prologue that is a masterclass in scene-setting. Fans of the movie Frozen will love the land of ice and magic that the author creates.
She also packs into these opening pages a clear mythology about the creation of Erkenwald. The prologue gets a lot of exposition out of the way so that the plot can take off when the human characters take the stage.
But first, we meet the evil Ice Queen, who escapes from the glacier where she has been imprisoned since losing her position as a Sky God. She wastes no time putting a nefarious plan into action.
She uses dark magic to create Winterfang Palace, a castle made of ice, and journeys through Erkenwald on her magic sleigh, taking tribespeople prisoner.
According to an ancient myth, if she can swallow every voice in the land before the midnight sun next rises, she will become immortal and rule the kingdom forever. She starts to consume the voices of the prisoners in Winterfang’s dungeons.
When the plot gets going, Sky Song becomes a standard quest story. Eska is one of the imprisoned children. She manages to escape with the help of Flint, a boy from the Fur tribe who has broken into the palace to rescue his mother. The pair is joined by a motley crew as they face dangers and obstacles on their journey to bring down the Ice Queen.
You can be fairly sure of how it will end – determined teenagers always prove to be stronger and more resourceful than even the most evil villain in YA novels. Elphinstone is not going to be the brave author who turns a well-tried formula on its head.
Sky Song’s stand-out feature is the land of Erkenwald in all its frozen glory. At times the plot and characters take second place as the author builds her own Narnia-like world. It’s this writer’s talent for setting that lifts Sky Song above other similar “teens take on villain” tales in this crowded corner of YA fiction.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org