Skandar and the Unicorn Thief
A. F. Steadman
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Published May 3, 2022
About Skandar and the Unicorn Thief
Skandar Smith has always yearned to leave the Mainland and escape to the secretive Island, where wild unicorns roam free. He’s spent years studying for his Hatchery exam, the annual test that selects a handful of Mainlander thirteen-year-olds to train to become unicorn riders. But on the day of Skandar’s exam, things go horribly wrong, and his hopes are shattered…until a mysterious figure knocks on his door at midnight, bearing a message: the Island is in peril and Skandar must answer its call.
Skandar is thrust into a world of epic sky battles, dangerous clashes with wild unicorns, and rumors of a shadowy villain amassing a unicorn army. And the closer Skandar grows to his newfound friends and community of riders, the harder it becomes to keep his secrets—especially when he discovers their lives may all be in graver danger than he ever imagined.
Soar into a breathtaking world of heroes and unicorns as you’ve never seen them before in this fantastical middle grade debut perfect for fans of the Percy Jackson and Eragon series!
I feel like I’m always nervous when a debut novel is compared to really big books or series like Eragon or Percy Jackson. It feels like a lot of expectations for the author to live up to. It also doesn’t feel like a fair comparison since one of the things that makes a series like Eragon or Percy Jackson so memorable are that they had a freshness to them that other books don’t have when they’re compared to being like ones that already exist. That soapbox aside, I was ready to give SKANDAR AND THE UNICORN THIEF a chance.
I think my favorite thing about this book is the relationship Skandar has with other characters. I loved the way he related to his sister and to Bobby especially. They challenged him to go beyond what he thought he could do, and they supported him even when it wasn’t easy. He learned to trust and support them in return, too.
Skandar’s unicorn, Scoundrel’s Luck, is also a cool character. He’s strong-willed and has really specific ideas about how he and Skandar should approach the challenges they face in training. Also, he’s pretty adorable in a this-is-a-dangerous-creature-who-could-eat-you kind of way. Ha!
For the most part, the plot of SKANDAR AND THE UNICORN THIEF moves at a steady clip, but there are some moments where things stall a bit. There were also a couple moments where things that seemed like they would be really big obstacles were resolved easily. Mostly that didn’t bother me. I think there could have been more tension if those things, like breaking into the prison, were a bit harder or more tense.
Another theme that I liked that Skandar’s story explored has to do with loss and grief. His mother is gone, and he misses her a lot. His dad struggles with depression and Skandar feels pressure both from his mom’s memory and his dad’s health to succeed as a unicorn rider. Another girl in his training class also lost her dad. Both she and Skandar face things they’ve been told about their parents or things they tell themselves about their parents that they discover may not be true. Then they have to wrestle with what those things mean.
On the whole, I enjoyed reading SKANDAR AND THE UNICORN THIEF. I liked the characters, and I found it easy to invest in the quest to stop the Weaver. I loved the emotional themes about grief and finding the courage to be yourself. This is a great adventure series for readers who enjoyed THE RAVEN HEIR by Stephanie Burgess or THE STORM KEEPER’S ISLAND by Catherine Doyle.
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.
Little description of some characters. Some characters are white.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used very infrequently.
Characters with a bond to a unicorn have the ability to use magic through that bond.
Situations of peril. Descriptions of decaying animals. Descriptions of kidnapping. Some combat in competition and training situations. Combat in life-threatening situations.
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