‘A voice is a mighty thing, Eska. When everything is taken from you – your family, your home, your friends, your dignity – you still have a voice, however weak it sounds.’
Eska’s voice could be the key to saving Erkenwald, but how can she use it when she is locked in a magical music box with no memories? Everything seems lost, until inventor Flint stumbles across Eska’s prison and sets her free. Even so, they have a long way to go – both physically and emotionally – before they stand a chance of defeating the Ice Queen…
Sky Song is set in the kingdom of Erkenwald; inhabited by three tribes, they all live in harmony with magic, the world and each other. That is until one of the stars falls from the heavens and blackens their hearts, turning them against each other in her desire to rule. This is the point that we enter the story – the prologue is written in an almost mythological way, and you can practically see the tale being played out in the form of animated cave paintings.
Our main heroes are Flint and Eska. Flint is courageous and ingenious, but also nervous and fearful at times, especially when it comes to his tribe and his older brother. This behaviour can be frustrating, but when put into the wider context of the world comes across as very realistic. Eska, although difficult to connect with at first due to her confusion and timidness, becomes a vibrant and engaging young women, whose pains and triumphs you feel as keenly as she does, and who helps Flint grow beyond the insular nature of his tribe.
Although it is Flint that initially saves Eska, she does not spend the book relying on him, rather learning from the world around her and her own shattered memories, meaning that when they are brought back together (having spent some time apart), it is more as equals that can work together, and it is great to see Flint’s reaction to Eska’s growth.
The villainous Ice Queen comes across as a terrifying mixture of the classic Snow Queen (from the fairy tale of the same name), the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the Queen of Shadows from Neil Gaiman’s Mirrormask; powerful and cruel, but also arrogant and petulant, the perfect antagonist for this setting.
The story itself is a wonderful blend of fantasy and adventure, with a dash of coming-of-age as Flint begins to accept that his inventions and ideas do have worth, and Eska becomes self-reliant, learning about who she is and her place in the world. The action is nail-biting and the imagery of the landscape and the monsters they face on their journey is at times both breath-taking and intimidating.
At times the story does risk indulging in the occasional cliché, such as having an amnesiac protagonist (a useful, but oft-done way for the author to have the reader ‘learn’ about the world), or the way the villain goes about their evil plan in neat steps (also “Chekhov’s baubles” make an early appearance – read it and you’ll see what I mean!), but Elphinstone weaves her story in such a way that often clichés are sidestepped or challenged. Even the ones that do appear are handled so deftly that I neither really noticed nor was bothered by them.
Overall, the story is engaging and exciting, full of wonder, hope and courage; of people who are more than they seem, and who can do more than they’d ever dreamed, standing up against injustice and tyranny, and connecting with the world and each other. I laughed, I cried (I’m not ashamed to admit it) and, as the first of her stories I’ve read, I look forward to tracking down Elphinstone’s other books.