cover image Skandar and the Unicorn Thief (Skandar #1)

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief (Skandar #1)

A.F. Steadman. Simon & Schuster, $18.99 (448p) ISBN 978-1-6659-1273-0

Skandar Smith, 13 and white, dreams of becoming a unicorn rider and competing in the prestigious Chaos Cup. The annual event makes him feel close to his mother, a huge fan of the competition who died when he was young, leaving behind Skandar, his sister, and their frequently depressed father. But barred for unclear reasons from taking the eligibility test, Skandar is smuggled by a mysterious rider onto the Island’s Hatchery, where he bonds with a just-hatched unicorn called Scoundrel’s Luck. But Scoundrel’s markings reveal an affinity for a fifth—and forbidden—element, which Skandar must disguise if he wants to both undergo Eyrie training and avoid being killed as an illegal rider. Luckily, a trio of new friends willingly help with the masquerade. While navigating his new elemental powers and exploring his bond with Scoundrel, Skandar is drawn into a tragic mystery surrounding the forbidden element and the evil Weaver, who steals unicorns and continually attacks the Eyrie. Debut author Steadman covers familiar territory in this series opener about a magical school in crisis, but rousing variations—bloodthirsty winged creatures that exhibit signs of both humor and horror—feel fresh alongside upbeat characterizations of resourceful, resilient youths of varying skin tones learning to trust one another. Ages 8–12. Agent: Sam Copeland, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (May)

Correction: The text of this review has been updated for accuracy.