Published: July 2020, Penguin
This debut novel by Mia Kuzniar, aka @thecosyreader, makes an instant impact with it's stunning front cover. Exotic, intriguing, legendary...this amazing artwork is just a taste of the things that await you inside. Prepared to be swept away for an adventure of a lifetime.
Book lover Aleja scours the libraries and horizons around Seville, dreaming of adventure and freedom. Her wish is answered when a legendary ship sails into port; The Ship of Shadows, captained by a fierce female crew of pirates.
When Aleja boards the ship, she is whisked across the high seas on a quest filled with puzzles, codes, krakens and lost cities. But the crew are keeping secrets and Aleja must employ all her talents to find out what these pirates are seeking. The answer is beyond anything Aleja could have ever imagined.
This novel is intoxicating. Mia Kuzniar's exquisite writing makes Aleja's world leap off the page. From the salty scent of the seas to the slimy sludge of the kraken to the spiced desert air of Marrakesh, you can see, smell and taste everything that Aleja experiences. By the time you finish reading, the ship will feel like home and the crew will feel like family.
The tale offers all the excitement of a pirate novel; battles, sea monsters and storms, with a highly original twist. All the pirates on board the eighteenth century vessel are women and they have one united purpose - to outwit the ruthless pirate hunter and find the pieces of an ancient artefact which have long been lost. The swashbuckling pirates themselves fit together like a perfect jigsaw, each with their own personality and talents. Malika is mysterious and haunted, the Captain is fair but focussed and then there is the loveable Frances and the awkward but comfort-loving Griete. However, it is Aleja who truly shines in this novel with her impressionable, heart-warming nature, her hunger for adventure and thirst for knowledge.
On top of that there is the ship...and cake! The ship is a character in itself, enchanting and secretive with a magic that is not often associated with pirates. As the shadows shift, the ship changes and exploring all the secret nooks and crannies is a delight. It is apt that the author is known as @thecosyreader as I've never known a pirate ship to be conveyed as cosy before...and yet this is! It's warm and homely with cupboards full of cake and a library full of books and quickly becomes the 'safe haven' or 'the heart' of the story, despite the many dangers that lurk around it.
It is unique details like this that sets this book apart from others of its genre. However, not only does the author manage to expertly execute a mix of pirates and magic and yummy food but she also weaves a plot that is fantastical and fabulous. The settings are breath-taking and the quest to the lost city of Zerzura towards the end of the novel is nail-bitingly thrilling. There is something in the writing that feels very authentic. It is rich with detail of the time but adds a thick layer of magic over the top like a crust of baked sand. A lot of time is spent exploring the ship in the first part of the novel but remember that this is the first in a series...and hooray for that!
So if you are a cake-lover, pirate fan or just love adventure, I highly recommend diving into this novel. It's highly likely that you won't be able to wait for the next instalment.