Bring the Swashbuckling to the Final Frontier in “The Iron Kingdom” Duology

Pirate Pearl by Phoebe Gilman
How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long

Celebrating Talk Like a Pirate Day was always a hit when our kids were younger as they were fans of every pirate-themed picture book, like David Shannon’s How I Became a Pirate or Pirate Pearl by Phoebe Gilman.  They devoured them and I remember well the endless treasure maps we made (staining construction paper with tea and baking it in the oven to make it look authentic).  The life of a pirate is evergreen for children’s book authors, thank goodness, because it’s a lot of fun to read aloud a story featuring buried treasure, maps to follow, and a cast of eccentric characters on a sailing ship.  That life has strong appeal, when you factor in the sea shanties and shipboard cats.

Despite having left the days of reading pirate-filled picture books behind one of our kids recently introduced me to an excellent series featuring another type of pirate – space pirates – when I was looking for something to inspire me during a very dark reading slump.  In Ashley Poston’s Iron Kingdom duology, the crew is searching for hidden treasure of a sort but they are using maps to navigate the galaxy instead of the ocean and their ship is filled with a battle-scarred crew which includes an android named D09.  Their ‘iron ship’ is called the Dossier and author Ashley Poston leans heavily on piratical lore to describe their world – their ship has three black ‘solar sails’, smells heavily of rust and gunpowder, and is helmed by Captain Seige (a fierce woman who wears a red frockcoat and smokes cigars).  With space battles, great hand-to-hand fighting, and a touch of gore, this adventure-packed YA series was exactly the thing to help me pick up a novel again.

Heart of Iron By Ashley Poston
Soul of Stars by Ashley Poston

Young crewmate Ana is loyal to the captain and grateful for her life on the ship but this hasn’t stopped her from growing into a rebellious troublemaker who struggles with rule following.  She is a typical pirate in the making.  In the first two chapters she manages to anger the rulers of their kingdom in her quest to learn more about her missing past (and to find a solution for D09’s increasing technical glitches) and the Dossier’s crew switches from mercenaries to fugitives in an instant, with the entire kingdom searching for them after a hefty bounty is set on their heads.  Their exploits are told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Ana, the android D09, the ship’s pilot Jax and… a fourth character I’ll just describe as ‘Robb’ to avoid spoiling anything.  Each of their stories are compelling but D09 becomes an easy favourite and the relationship between the android and Ana is an absolute pleasure to read.  Her desire to find a solution to the technical problems he is experiencing helps to create an emotional bond with the characters while they fight their way through space.  The Ana story is based on the House of Romanov and one reviewer said that the plot has “conspiracies nested like Russian dolls” and I can’t help but agree.

This is a completely distracting story that would appeal to fans of YA series like Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles or Holly Black’s Folk of the air.  It’s dramatic, romantic, sometimes silly, and the space pirate captain named Seige has flowing fiber-optic-tipped hair that changes colour and sports black boots.  Who could ask for more?  Don’t miss out on Heart of Iron and the sequel, Soul of Stars.

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