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Review: The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House UK Children’s for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and The Write Reads for including me in the blog tour!

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Aleja whiles away her days in her family’s dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she’s only ever read about in books. After all, she’s always being told that girls can’t be explorers.

But her life is changed forever when adventure comes for her in the form of a fabled vessel called the Ship of Shadows. Crewed by a band of ruthless women, with cabin walls dripping with secrets, the ship has sailed right out of a legend. And it wants Aleja.

Once on board its shadowy deck, she begins to realize that the sea holds more secrets than she ever could have imagined. The crew are desperately seeking something, and their path will take them through treacherous waters and force them to confront nightmare creatures and pitch-dark magic. It will take all of Aleja’s strength and courage to gain the trust of her fellow pirates – and discover what they are risking everything to find.

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Content warnings: Parental death

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I can’t get over how this is a debut book, I loved it! Pirates? Check. Badass Feminist ladies? Check. Magic? Check. Cake? Check!

I love a good adventure story, and this one ticked all of the boxes for me. Aleja is such a wonderful main character – inquisitive, smart and incredibly determined to get what she wants! I loved her relationship with her brothers and how realistic it was – it was great to see a largely functional sibling dynamic!

I love the entirely female crew of The Ship of Shadows – each character was strong in their own way with their own unique personalities and backstories. I loved seeing this many women in one story who were well written and actually fleshed out – it made the story so much more real for me! Each member of the crew has their own strengths which all worked together to create a really powerful team. I appreciated the disability rep, BIPOC rep and LGBTQ+ rep in the book, and how these characters weren’t treated differently. This book is a fantastic way for kids to experience people from all walks of life being strong, determined and essential for the team to work. Found family stories always make me happy, and this one worked incredibly well as you feel like you’re a part of it too! I laughed along with the banter and felt all of the tension when secrets were being kept and disagreements broke out.

It sounds incredibly trivial, but I really enjoyed seeing a character with glasses who isn’t typically nerdy/geeky, but instead being integral to the team for other reasons. Frances was one of my favourite characters – we share an infinite love of cake and a constant need to push our glasses up!

Maria writes so beautifully and lyrically, which makes the story jump out of the page – I can see this as a film one day! The descriptions are rich and vibrant, making the magic and shadows come to life in front of my eyes. I loved how the magic worked on the ship – it’s such a whimsical idea!

This book is fast paced and action-filled, but doesn’t feel rushed or too crowded. Everything that happens adds to the excitement of the journey! Even the quiet periods of the book were important, so I never felt like I was waiting for the next big event.

I loved everything about this book and it has soared into my top 5 Middle Grade reads of all time! I really hope there are more books to come from Aleja and the rest of the crew, I need to know what happens next! I gave this book 5 stars.

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