Book Review: Skandar and the Unicorn Thief - an exciting new adventure for fans of Harry Potter
Updated: Sep 5, 2022
Written by: A.F. Steadman
Published by: Simon & Schuster Children's UK
Recommended reading age: 9+
'Skandar and the Unicorn Thief' is a must-read for fans of Harry Potter. The fast-paced narrative follows 13-year-old Skandar, a misfit from Margate, as he seeks to throw off the shackles of his ordinary life for an extraordinary one and fulfil his dream of becoming a unicorn rider.
In this universe, unicorns are real and they are only a stone's throw away from mainland UK on a secretive island. But, they are not the sparkly, rainbow-pooping, horse-hybrids we have come to know and love; they’re ferocious and powerful. It’s only through an age-old tradition, that sees a unicorn united at birth with a human rider, that they can unlock their true potential. Without a rider, unicorns are cursed to a prolonged death. It’s worth noting the wonderfully haunting imagery that Steadman conjures up here, one akin to Tolkein’s Nazgûl (Ringwraiths).
Skandar, like his peers, doesn’t know whether he has the powers necessary to tame a unicorn. To find out, all 13-year-olds must take an exam to assess their potential.
Skandar’s dreams are shattered when he is inexplicably forbidden entry to the exam. However, he isn’t heartbroken for long. A mysterious figure comes to call with a message that the unicorn island is in grave danger and Skandar is the only one who can help.
Readers will note that, although it has promise, "Skandar and the Unicorn Thief" doesn’t do anything different from what has come before. But, I would also argue, why do something different when the formula works so well?
There is scope for further character development and exploration of the concept as a whole. But I think it is easy to dismiss Steadman’s first book out of turn and forget where authors like JK Rowling started. It’s only when you take the entire series of Harry Potter and combine it with the accompanying movie franchise that you achieve the amount of lore and world-building that we’ve all gotten used to. The same point could be made for other fantasy franchises like The Lord of the Rings. The length of book necessary to achieve this same level of detail, especially so early in the Skandar series, would have been off-putting. I feel there is enough here to hook you in and hold your attention to the very end.
For me, this was an easy and enjoyable read. Skandar is an authentic and instantly likeable character and I found myself invested in his story from the first page. A highlight of the book was its message of self-belief. It’s only by facing his fears, believing in himself, and learning to trust others that Skandar will be able to solve the puzzle of unicorn island.
This book will be a hit with young fantasy fans. Much like Rowling and Harry Potter, Steadman’s use of language makes it impossible not to see the magic of the island unfolding before your eyes!
It was a pleasure to join Skandar and his friends on their first adventure and I thought the overall concept was refreshing. 'Skandar and the Unicorn Thief' holds great potential for further exploration and I’m looking forward to hearing more from Steadman.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster for providing us with a review copy of 'Skandar and the Last Unicorn'.
If you'd like to buy the book you can do so by clicking here to visit Simon and Schuster's website.