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Raider's Ransom: Emily Diamand: Middle Grade Fantasy Review

Book: Raider's Ransom
Author: Emily Diamand
Pages: 352
Age Range: 9-12 

Raiders I requested Raider's Ransom from the Scholastic catalog a while back, because the premise caught my eye. Since then, I've seen a host of positive reviews, and I've been eager to read it. I finally got to it this week, and it fully lived up to my expectations.

Raider's Ransom is set more than 200 years in the future, in a world decimated by flooding and other environmental disasters. England has dwindled down to 10 struggling southern colonies, while Greater Scotland holds most of the rest of the land in the former United Kingdom. Families of Raiders have carved out territories in the eastern marshes. Modern technology is pretty much wiped out in the English colonies, though there are rumors that Scotland still has solar power.

Lilly Melkun lives with her grandmother in a small fishing community. Although only 13, Lilly has some degree of importance in her village, because she possesses a sea cat. The cats are rare animals that can help fishermen identify opportunities and perils in the water. They choose their owners, and Cat has chosen Lilly. When a band of raiders visits Lilly's village, however, her life changes forever. She and Cat find themselves on a quest to ransom a kidnapped child.

Meanwhile, a boy named Zeph lives in the raider community of Angel Isling, the only legitimate son of "the Boss" of the family. Zeph has rivalries with his toxic half-brother and his father's Scottish mistress. He wants to prove himself as a warrior and the future of the family. But when his father brings home a vulnerable, kidnapped girl, a girl who reminds him of his lost little sister, Zeph finds himself conflicted.

Both Zeph and Lilly are strong characters. I did find it a bit confusing to have two first-person protagonists, in intermittently alternating chapters, with no indication of the narrator in the chapter titles. As I began each chapter, I had to figure out whether Lilly or Zeph was speaking. Once their paths crossed, this was sometimes tricky. But I did think that seeing the action from both Zeph and Lilly's perspectives added a lot to the story.

I also liked the dynamic between the two children. Diamand doesn't take the easy way out by just making the kids immediately become loyal friends. They lie to each other, misunderstand each other, and even betray each other, because of their prior loyalties. Zeph is especially torn between the messages of his upbringing and what he thinks is right. And, of course, having both a male and a female narrator makes this book likely to be well-received by boys and girls.

The book includes enough dialect to make it feel like a different world, but no so much as to make the book unreadable. For example:

"She's got a smile on her nasty face, probably coz everyone's looking at her. It aint's right: She's only his doxy! A slave, sold down by some Scottish smuggler." (Page 28, Zeph)

"I know what some of that means, cos the vicar's always sermoning about how the sea rose up and swallowed whole towns, and the sun got hotter and frazzled the land, and all the drops died and turned to dust, and that's why we're hungry." (Page 41, Lilly)

My only complaint about the book is that the coincidences are a bit strong. For example, Lilly, who is looking for the kidnapped girl, literally runs into Zeph, whose father kidnapped the girl, as soon as she arrives in London. (And there's another enormous coincidence, regarding a jewel, that I can't explain without giving too much away - perhaps this will be explained better in the sequel).

Raider's Ransom does have one of my favorite aspects of books with post-apocalyptic settings -- little glimpses of the mysterious lost world (which is our world). A man in Lilly's village collects old "com puters", which look like inanimate plastic boxes to Lilly. She doesn't know what to make of a figurine labeled "Santa". The names of the raider families are taken from areas around London (Chelsea, etc.). An important minor character lives in the upper floors of the house that once belong to the British Prime Minister. And so on. Some of the details of the lost London, I think, went over my head, because I don't know London as well as kids who live near there would (Raider's Ransom was first published in the UK). This didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book, but I occasionally felt like there was another layer that I was missing.

Raider's Ransom has an intriguing and atmospheric setting, and a compelling and fast-paced plot. Although the author is an environmental activist (according to the publisher's website), she maintains a light touch with regard to the environmental aspects of the book. For the most part, she keeps the focus on the characters and the action. In truth, I couldn't put this book down. I'll be looking forward to the planned sequel. Highly recommended for fantasy, seaside story, and dystopia fans, middle grade and up.

Publisher: The Chicken House (Scholastic)
Publication Date: December 1, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Shelf Elf, Eva's Book Addiction, Kiss the Book, A Fuse #8 Production, The Book Muncher, What's Carol Reading?, Book Aunt

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).