A swashbuckling, complex middle grades fantasy set on board an unlucky pirate ship in the midst of war.
The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford. Henry Holt and Co., 2016. 384 pages.
Reading Level: Middle grades, 10-12
Recommended For: middle grades, ages 10-12, and up
Lucy Bluecrowne (newly made captain of her father’s ship) and Maxwell Ault have been taken prisoner by the young lieutenant Oliver Dexter on board Lucy’s ship the Left-Handed Fate. Dexter happens to be American, and the Left-Handed Fate is a British privateering ship (pirates!). If this weren’t conflict of interests enough, the LHF is helping Maxwell Ault discover and smuggle the parts to a fantastical, mythical weapon that they hope will bring world peace. Dexter, despite his orders to the contrary, allows the ship to be taken to Nagspeake, where Lucy and Maxwell attempt to find information about the weapon (and perhaps reclaim the ship).
The delights of this wild adventurous novel are many: interesting characters, complex plotting, sailing lingo, quirky Nagspeake, and a respect for the young reader who can follow the twists and turns of the Left-Handed Fate. Indeed, the overall feel of the book is not dissimilar to Pirates of the Caribbean in the sense that it is a grander-than-life pirate and seafaring tale (but without the “campy” elements). Readers should be advised, though, that the sailors (even the very young ones) in this book talk like sailors: profanity (misuses of the Lord’s name) is sprinkled in a handful of times as well as terms such as “hell.” In addition, the characters’ belief in fate and luck comes through clearly. This is realistic for the characters given their circumstances and setting; sailors are notoriously superstitious, but the worldview is one that some parents may wish to discuss with their kids. The book ends on an interesting note regarding the weapon and its lineage and legacy. I’ll not spoil it for you here, but do ask your kids what they think!
Cautions: Supernatural (fate, luck, superstition), Language (scattered profanity–misuses of the Lord’s name–and vulgarity), Violence (war-time at sea with canon and some characters dying)
Overall Rating: 3.75
Worldview Rating: 3.5
Artistic Rating: 4