fantasy and science fiction book reviewsSky Raiders by Brandon MullSky Raiders by Brandon Mull

Sky Raiders is the first book in Brandon Mull’s new FIVE KINGDOMS series for Middle Grade readers. It’s about a boy named Cole who takes his friends, including a girl he has a crush on, to a haunted house on Halloween Night. The occupants of the house lure the kids into the basement where they’re abducted, taken to another world called The Five Kingdoms, and sold into slavery.

As you might guess, Cole feels a little guilty about this. He’s determined to escape and free his friends. He outwits enemies and battles giant snakes, scorpions, and even a cyclops. Then he finds an ally in a girl named Mira, a girl from the Five Kindgoms who is also a slave. Can Cole and Mira free Cole’s friends? Can Cole get back to Earth? Well, he does make some progress toward that end in Sky Raiders, but there’s plenty more to accomplish in the next volume of THE FIVE KINGDOMS.

I enjoyed Sky Raiders. As we were recently discussing in a Thoughtful Thursday column hosted by Jaleigh Johnson, Middle Grade fantasy can be so refreshing and I was in the mood for this. Though Mull’s story is scary and disturbing at times, it has an underlying current of optimism and plenty of silliness that kids should love. There are also subtle messages such as reminders that middle-class American kids have it pretty easy, exhortations to have self-control in your interactions with others, and warnings about tyrannical governments.

My favorite part of the story was some of the imaginative world-building. In the area where Cole is enslaved there is a huge chasm in the earth that, as far as anyone knows, has no bottom. The chasm is enclosed on the east and west by cloud walls and nobody knows what’s beyond them. Floating castles, which are some sort of magical construct, come out of the west cloud wall and float above the chasm until they disappear into the east cloud wall. The Sky Raiders who’ve enslaved Cole raid and loot these castles before they’re gone forever. This is hard to believe in, as is the fact that everyone Cole meets speaks English, but this is the kind of thing we’re willing to accept when we’re reading children’s fantasy. It’s part of what makes Middle Grade fantasy so much fun.

FIVE KINGDOMS by Brandon MullIf I was in the mood to be picky I could point out a few flaws. Some of the silliness can become tiresome, we’re reminded a few too many times of how noble Cole is, some of the plot is predictable (e.g., it’s easy to see that Mira is hiding a secret and not too hard to guess what it is) and a couple of times the characters seem to hinder their own goals (such as the time the Sky Raiders think Cole and Mira are dead, yet the kids go right back to their fort instead of taking that opportunity to escape). Yes, I can point out the flaws, but these are not likely to bother the intended audience. This imaginative and well-paced fantasy adventure is certain to please most Middle Grade readers.

I’m eager to see what happens to Cole, Mira, and Cole’s friends. I also want to know what the relationship is between the Five Kingdoms and Earth. Why do they know so much about us and we know nothing of them? I’ll be looking for the sequel, The Rogue Knight.

I read the audiobook version of Sky Raiders which was narrated by Keith Nobbs and produced by Simon & Schuster Audio. This was the first time I’ve heard Keith Nobbs. I thought he was perfect in this role. His voice is just the right pitch and pace for a kid’s adventure and he’s animated without being angsty.

Five Kingdoms — (2014-2016) Ages 8-12. Adventure awaits in the Five Kingdoms—come and claim it in this start to a new series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Beyonders series. Cole Randolph was just trying to have a fun time with his friends on Halloween (and maybe get to know Jenna Hunt a little better). But when a spooky haunted house turns out to be a portal to something much creepier, Cole finds himself on an adventure on a whole different level. After Cole sees his friends whisked away to some mysterious place underneath the haunted house, he dives in after them — and ends up in The Outskirts. The Outskirts are made up of five kingdoms that lie between wakefulness and dreaming, reality and imagination, life and death. It’s an in-between place. Some people are born there. Some find their way there from our world, or from other worlds. And once you come to the Outskirts, it’s very hard to leave. With the magic of the Outskirts starting to unravel, it’s up to Cole and an unusual girl named Mira to rescue his friends, set things right in the Outskirts, and hopefully find his way back home… before his existence is forgotten.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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