Books & Literature

Book Review: Skandar and The Unicorn Thief, by A.F. Steadman

MIDDLE GRADE: The first book in the hotly anticipated new fantasy adventure series for readers age 9+, from A. F. Steadman.

An exciting new fantasy series featuring unicorns as you’ve never seen them.

If you are seeking a new fantasy adventure series for your Potter-loving preteen, look no further. Skandar and The Unicorn Thief is already taking the world by storm, with Steadman signed up for a multi-book series and filming rights already snapped up. And for good reason. When shops and kids media are suffocated with fluffy rainbow unicorn-themed, well, everything, it is refreshing to see a completely different take on the unicorn trope. You’ll find no adorable, rainbow-pooping unicorns here.

The setting is an alternate version of the UK, in which aggressive, bloodthirsty unicorns go on rampages, leaving entire towns massacred. The only thing keeping them under control are the unicorn riders, ones who happen to have a special bond with one particular unicorn and who can harness their elemental magic. Skandar dreams of being one of the lucky few, but as his dreams are about to become a reality, disaster strikes. The most powerful unicorn in the world has been stolen by a dangerous dark magic user known only as The Weaver. Skandar’s new life at The Eyrie (unicorn-riding and magic-wielding school) is plagued by old secrets and lasting prejudices.

As well as being action-packed, the story touches on themes typical for this age bracket: friendship, finding your identity, bravery, and loyalty. Skandar also deals with sibling guilt when he leaves his sister to look after their depressed father. It is pleasing to see mental illness, in the form of the father’s depression, represented in an honest and kind way. Skandar’s father is not evil, or presented in any exaggerated way; he’s just a dad who tries his best but sometimes fails, and his kids still love him through that. With mental illness still so often stigmatised, or presented as villainous in media, this positive representation is good to see.

The characters are likeable and interesting, though they are stereotyped to an extent, as is typical for this age group. The book isn’t long, and there’s only so much character development that can be done in less than 400 pages, particularly with secondary characters. Steadman really knows how to write for the preteen age bracket, and any fantasy or adventure lover aged 9 and up will love this new series.

Reviewed by Kristin Stefanoff

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: April 2022
RRP: $19.99

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