Science fiction for the upper middle grade reader (especially the sort that takes place out in space) is thin on the ground these days. Happily, Keith Mansfield is busily filling that gap with Johnny Mackintosh.
Back in December, I reviewed Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London. It tells of the titular character's wild journey both through the galaxy and far back in time, a journey that begins when he's abducted by aliens, and ends with him back on earth, a bit wiser, and with the friendship of the galactic emperor, and his own spaceship (the Spirit of London) only a small shuttle trip away.
This next paragraph is spoilery. Feel free to skip it.
In Star Blaze (Quercus, 2010, 324 pages), Johnny faces a multitude of even more serious problems. A rouge army of aliens is approaching our solar system, planning to make our sun go super nova, and Johnny's long lost brother appears to be in cahoots with them....the emperor's authority is being undermined by power-hungry aliens who want him deposed, but he doesn't seem to be doing anything to stop them....an alien prince and princess, rescued from death in an encounter out in space, prove to have their own agenda...the Galactic Council is convinced Johnny's an enemy spy....and, to make things even worse, the Spirit of London has been hijacked....
This is one of those books where there is so much going on that the story seems to run forward faster and faster. The plot twists and turns, the details of the setting and character and different alien races build up an ever more elaborate fictional universe...and I was almost (but not quite) overwhelmed, and sometimes (but not terribly so) confused.
I myself tend to like books where people stay put for most of the time (or at least some of the time), and where character is front and central, which can't really be said for this series. And my favorite character is Clara, Johnny's little sister, and she is a bit off to the side in this book, so that was disappointing.
That being said, this series is one to give to the kid who likes his books with plenty of excitement, cool technology (a star ship of one's own...), and intergalactic heroics!
There are plenty of big, unanswered questions about Johnny, Clara, and their brother, not to mention the swirling alien plots that fill their universe. The next book in the series, Johnny Mackintosh and the Battle for Earth, comes out in September.
I put these books comfortably in middle grade--they are classic mg action-packed, wish-fulfillment adventure--but they are long, and meaty, more suited, I think, for fast, confident readers than for the younger part of the middle grade age bracket. I would definitely give these to any fan of P.J. Haarsma's Softwire series, which has much the same frenetic energy to it. (The only other mg space sci fi I can think of, Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel, by K.A. Holt (which I enjoyed very much) is one I'd recommend to those who require slightly less of the frenetic energy side of things!)
Here are other reviews, at The Book Zone (for boys) and M/C Reviews.
(disclaimer: review copy received from the author)