The Ship of Shadows

The Ship of Shadows

By Author / Illustrator

Maria Kuzniar



Age range(s)



Penguin Random House Children's UK




Paperback / softback




The sweeping, sparkling first book in a brand new series that will delight fans of The Wild Way Home and Frostheart.

Aleja is a dreamer who longs for a life of magic and adventure. So when a mysterious ship arrives in her Spanish harbour city, crewed by a band of ruthless women, Aleja knows it's sailed right out of a legend.  And it wants her.  But life aboard the Ship of Shadows is more than even she bargained for. It will take all of Aleja's strength and skill to gain the trust of her fellow pirates - and discover what they are risking everything to find . . .



Ajela is hungry for adventure. While life at home is Seville, helping in the family taverna and trying to escape from her loving family's ladylike expectations of her, the city can provide some excitement, such as sneaking out at night and clambering of the city's rooftops. But really Ajela is looking for a bigger challenge, something to rival the stories in her favourite book 'Legendary Explorers'.

Luckily, it's not long at all before that adventure comes to find her, in the form of a curious, battle-fresh and smoking ship, sneaking into port under cover of darkness. At first, the adventure seems exciting yet run-of-the-mill - Ajela is unsure if she really wants to join the crew of a pirate ship, albeit one run entirely by intriguing and mysterious women.

However, once on board, she discovers there are far more mysteries to uncover than she could ever have imagined. Aleja's adventure will go much further than stealing treasure and fighting enemy captains. Soon, she is caught up in whirlwind of ghostly apparitions, deep-sea kraken, coded treasure maps, magical disappearing rooms, camel rides across the desert, and her own pet shadow-creature.

The Ship of Shadows is a high-paced, swash-buckling tale which throws in every element imaginable to make Ajela's journey as heart-stopping as possible; action sequence piles upon action sequence until the reader's head is spinning! The characters are fantastic too, from Captain Elizabeth Quint to Aleja's new best friend Frances, and with many more pieces of the treasure map to discover, I'm sure we will get to know more about their backstories and personalities in further instalments.

A riot for the senses and the imagination.

336 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Carol Carter, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 11+


Pirates of the Caribbean meets Indiana Jones in this rollicking tale of adventure! Aleja lives in Seville with her father, grandmother and two brothers, helping to run the family taverna. She spends her free time reading about explorers and dreams of following in their footsteps, especially those of Thomas James, her favourite adventurer.

While out in the city one day, Aleja discovers some men involved in counterfeiting. They chase her, worried that she will report them, and she flees in fear of her life. She is rescued by the mysterious Captain Elizabeth Quint, a female pirate, who lets her hide on the Ship of Shadows. Aleja has a flair for languages and is offered a place in the crew, but she fears she will miss her family too much. However, she falls asleep and awakes to find that the ship has set sail. The captain promises to return her to her family once they have completed a secret mission. So the adventure begins!

As the voyage progresses, Aleja is shown around the magical ship with its shadows and ever-changing rooms. Behind one door is a waterfall, under a floorboard a hoard of gold - it seems as though anything is possible on board the Ship of Shadows! Aleja is taught how to use weapons and becomes more and more a part of the crew. She learns that they are journeying to find the lost island of Zerzuma, in search of the first part of a magical map hidden there by Thomas James, and that she is to be part of the overland excursion through the desert.

This is a brilliant book, with a fabulous cast of female characters. The whole crew are women or girls, and each brings her own skill to the Ship of Shadows. I especially loved Frances, who becomes Aleja's best friend. A clever thief, Frances is brave and funny; she and Aleja make a formidable team. Each member of the crew has their own talent and their own reasons for being on board the Ship of Shadows, and Aleja fits right in among them.

There are some beautiful descriptive passages in the book, you can feel the heat of the desert and smell the spices of the markets as you read. The moment when the city of Zerzura rises out of the desert sands is particularly well written. There are some scary passages - the ship is attacked by Kraken and the girls need all their strength and bravery to defend it. They come up against Jinn, armies of skeletons and pirate hunters, all determined to stop them from achieving their goal, but the friendship and teamwork of the crew make them succeed.

I loved this book, Aleja is a fantastic heroine, clever and brave and loyal to her shipmates, and I cannot wait to read more about her and the quest to find the missing pieces of the map. A fabulous start to what promises to be a very exciting series.

336 pages / Ages 11+ / Reviewed by Beverley Somerset, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 11+


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