The Star of Deltora is a world-famous trading ship, and 4 young passengers have been taken on board to compete in clever trading to be her next captain. One of these is a smart, plucky girl named Bretta, who's hiding a secret--her father betrayed his own crew when he seized the magical staff that revived the evil of the Hungry Island, and he betrayed Bretta by putting the staff's magical powers ahead of his own family. But she's determined to keep the dark secret of her identity hidden, and to make a place for herself on the ocean Deltora...
In my review of the first two, I wrote that "the Star of Delotra is sailing on a big ocean, filled with lots of magic, not all of it nice, and some of it downright evil. Will Britta's intelligence and sharp trading instincts be enough to see her through her adventures safely? One can assume they will, but I don't have books 3 and 4 on hand. If I did, I'd already have read them at this point. Probably back to back immediately after book 2." And I didn't mean this as a direct hint to the publisher, who had sent me the first 2 books....but that doesn't mean I wasn't pleased as all get out to then receive books 3 and 4 soon after my post went up! And I wasn't at all disappointed in the reading of them.
The Towers of Illica present the third trading challenges to the would-be captains. Illica is a place where those at the high end of society have sacrificed almost everything for their collections of treasures--they are wealthy beyond compare in precious things, and rich in status (both things they guard jealously), but have no cash on hand. Though the central thrust of this one is Britta trying to make a good trade for the sake of the competition, it's fun to get a bit more backstory of her colleagues, and see the relationships between the characters growing.
The Hungry Isle is where Bretta expects to find and confront her father, and somehow figure out a way to clear herself of the shadows of dark magic that his control of the staff has caused to haunt her. This confrontation does occur, and is most exciting, but there's a twist that I wasn't expecting, and happily (for my own personal tastes as a reader) it occurs midway in the book, with plenty of pages left to get everyone home again and get all the loose ends sorted out in an unhurried way.
Short answer: this is my current go-to recommendation for anyone looking for a series to offer a nine or ten year old--lots of excitement, interesting setting and magic, characters to care about, and a strong girl protagonist. And I say this even as one who is not drawn to seafaring stories! So thank you, Kane Miller, for sending them my way!