(Image from Barnes & Noble)
As a sixth grader, Cole Randolph knows he's too old for dressing up and trick-or-treating. But checking out a creepy haunted house created by a special effects guy with Hollywood experience? He's all in. Especially when Jenna Hunt agrees to tag along with him and his best friend, Dalton. Even if the spook house is totally lame, it will be worth it to hang out with the prettiest girl in school.
What Cole is expecting to be a mildly exciting Halloween night soon turns into the greatest, most terrifying adventure of his life. Alien slave traders lurk in the recesses of the house's basement, kidnapping kids and forcing them through a sinister-looking manhole. Although Cole manages to elude capture, Jenna and Dalton do not. Cole knows he has to go after his friends. He may, in fact, be their only hope.
Through the manhole, Cole discovers a strange, mysterious land called the Outskirts. It's a weird, in-between place full of odd, impossible things. In this hostile place, it's only a matter of time before Cole is caught. Sold away to a band of sky raiders, Cole is separated from the other kidnapped children. While he performs his dangerous new duties as a scout for the aerial pirates, who pillage floating castles for anything worth salvaging, Cole searches for a way to escape. The death toll among scouts being extremely high, he knows he doesn't have much time to rescue himself and his friends. But how will he get to them? And how will they all get back to their own world? Is it even possible? Or will they be forever trapped, forever slaves, forever imprisoned in a place which no one else knows exists?
When it comes to creating exciting, imaginative middle grade fiction, Brandon Mull knows what he's doing. Sky Raiders, the first book in his Five Kingdoms series, is an excellent case in point. The book starts with a bang and sprints onward from there. With death-defying challenges around every corner (cloud?), its hero is constantly put to the test. Surviving them requires courage, cunning, and lots of quick maneuvering. Cole's exploits make for just the kind of page-turning action/adventure middle graders crave. The fact that they take place in a unique and vivid setting make them all the more compelling. Young (and not so young) readers who dare to follow Cole down the manhole will be swept away by the epic and fantastical adventure that awaits them in the Outskirts. I certainly was.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for violence and intense scenes/scenes of peril
To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Sky Raiders from the generous folks at Simon & Schuster. Thank you!