The Ship of Cloud and Stars

Written by Amy Raphael
Review by Jane Burke

This is a bright, visually attractive novel which blends information, adventure and fantasy, ably illustrated by George Ermos.

Nico Cloud, undervalued at home and keen to become a scientist like her mysterious aunt, Dr. Hamilton, runs away to sea by hiding in her aunt’s ship, the Anthos. Apart from the fact that she is a stowaway, more serious problems are revealed: her aunt, Dr. Hamilton, has no money and may be forced to cease exploring. But Nico has plans, and her interest in fossils and story leads to a quest to find the fossilised seeds of the mythical Tree of Hope, a discovery which will lead not only to an acknowledgement of the need for a global seed bank, but enable a better future for all humanity. This is a book, and a heroine, with grand ambitions.

This novel has everything for young readers: storms, pirates, a feisty female narrator who can hold her own with both, and a cute kitten named Astra. Its sometimes-heavy weight of exposition is given pace and humour by a cast of sympathetic and diverse characters, and its underlying theme that girls and science are compatible is timely. Life on the ship is vividly described: the bread room where Nico hides is ‘lined with silver’—the walls covered with tin to deter rats. Warm moral precepts are evoked: like a ‘flock of sand martins … travelling thousands of miles across land and sea’ the humans ‘make it because they aren’t alone’.

One slight criticism is that in a book intended to enthuse young readers with science, more research into what was known in 1832 might have been helpful, as both dinosaurs and the millions of years of deep time that now constitute common knowledge were then unknown.

Recommended for 8 – 12-year-olds.