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The Ship of Shadows | Maria Kuzniar | Review

Aleja whiles away her days in her family's dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she's only ever read about in books. After all, she's always been told that girls can't be explorers.

Aleja dreams of living the adventures she reads about in her favourite books, especially those of the famed British explorer, Thomas James, and she loves to hear the stories of pirates and magic that men tell each other in her family's tavern. She longs to board a ship of her own and sail the world, just like James did. Aleja's grandmother says girls shouldn't go chasing after adventure but Aleja doesn't believe her. Aleja knows that girls can do whatever they set their mind to, and although the men in the tavern don't always believe in the magic stories they tell, Aleja knows that they're wrong too. Magic is real and she hopes to find it as much as she hopes to explore the world.

Aleja's wishes all seem to come true when she finds herself on The Ship of Shadows, a temporary and accidental part of Captain Quint's crew. Aleja is soon setting sail to mysterious locations, helping to solve important riddles and clues, and having all the adventure she could ever want, and more besides. Maybe a little too much. Captain Quint has many secrets, and it turns out that being a pirate on a magical ship is most definitely not without peril. Not least of which is the terrifying pirate hunter on the ship's tail!

The Ship of Shadows is a fun and fantastical middle grade adventure, filled with magic, daring, friendship, and cake. Aleja's thirst for knowledge and adventure may land her on Captain Quint's ship, but it's the friendships she makes onboard that truly propel the story forward and that, along with Quint's mysteries, will keep readers eagerly turning the pages to find out how the adventure ends. Or, indeed, if it ends at all. Aleja is a charming narrator and, along with the rest of the crew, makes this an easy and fun read, perfect for all ages, because, I mean, who doesn't love reading about pirates sailing on a magical ship, full of hidden rooms, adorable, shape-shifting shadows, and oh, did I mentioned the copious amounts of cake?

Aleja is a dreamer, and although those dreams may seem at first almost impossible to achieve, and then, more dangerous than she might ever have imagined, she never gives up on those dreams, on her friends, or on herself. She certainly never entertains the idea that she should be denied adventure (or trousers) just because she happens to be a girl. I suspect all bookish children (or adults who were once bookish children themselves) will see a part of themselves reflected in Aleja, and I hope that she will inspire many of them to chase their own adventures! Although, perhaps not by running away on pirate ships. I have no doubt that she will. 

An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley for review. All opinions expressed are the reviewer's own.

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