REVIEW: The Ship of Stolen Words by Fran Wilde
A group of goblins steal a boy’s ability to apologize in this lively middle-grade fantasy from Nebula Award-winning author Fran Wilde
No matter how much trouble Sam gets in, he knows that he can always rely on his magic word, “sorry,” to get him out of a pinch. Teasing his little sister too much? Sorry! Hurt someone’s feelings in class? Sorry! Forgot to do his chores? So sorry! But when goblins come and steal his “sorry,” he can’t apologize for anything anymore. To get his “sorry” back and stop the goblins from stealing anyone else’s words, Sam will have to enter the goblins’ world and try and find the depository of stolen words.
There, he meets Tolver, a young goblin who’s always dreamed of adventure. Tolver longs to use the goblin technology—which can turn words into fuel to power ships—to set off and explore, but his grandma warns him that the goblin prospectors will only bring trouble.
Together, Tolver and Sam will have to outsmart the cruel prospectors and save the day before Sam’s parents ground him forever!
Dear Ms. Wilde,
This looked cute and it’s not everyday that a cover has a floating pig ship on it. I had to investigate and ended up having fun. There are some lovely relationships to savor. The world building is rich if, at times, a bit overdone. I appreciated the take home message even though it got a bit dogmatic.
Sam is like many of us in that he sometimes carelessly throws around words that at times he doesn’t really mean. We all have things we say as social sops which sound good and get us out of things we don’t want to do or are hoping to put off – escape valves, so to speak. Sam’s word is “sorry.” Sometimes he really means it but often he utters it just to get out of a situation that as an energetic eleven year old, he gets into. One day he says it to the wrong person and soon he discovers he can’t say it or any other standard word to express sorrow for something he’s done.
Unfortunately for Sam, this latest incident involves a good friend and was done at school in front of a teacher who isn’t going to stand for what she sees as bullying. Sam hurt someone’s feelings and he needs to make it right. But he can’t. Then Sam starts to see the strange person with a pig who was the last person to whom he said the word and being a bright child, he begins to suspect a connection. Sam has no idea though, what it will take to get his words back and the danger lurking for the whole town.
This is certainly a book that will capture the interest of middle school age children but maybe not initially because of the stolen words. There’s a nice mix of the everyday of Sam’s life and family with the fantastic of the hidden goblin world. I think maybe nine to eleven year olds would like it but much younger than that and I don’t think the children would sit through all the world building nor understand the message being given.
There is a lot of description that has to be included as this is not a bog standard middle grade fantasy. The way that the goblin world works, why they do what they do, and how this in turn affects human speech has to be spelled out and for a while, it seemed as if it was a never ending explanation with ever more things that had to be included. I will admit that my eyes crossed a time or two.
Several messages wind through the story. The goblin grandmother and grandson do things the old fashioned way, the simple way that takes patience. But Tulver is young and impatient – he wants things now and done faster although there is a good reason, to help his Nan. Sam gets a little lesson in the meaning of words and that words that are sometimes taken for granted shouldn’t be. Sam also realizes that he’s taken his friendship with Mason for granted at times. Everyone learns about honoring promises and working together, coming to understand the power of words and not to overuse certain ones.
I loved a lot of the relationships in the book. Sam has a great family with a father who listens to him, a stepmother who isn’t evil and a cute younger sister. Sam’s teacher also obviously cares for her students. Nan and Tulver, the grandmother and grandson goblins, have a tight knit relationship and are devoted to each other.
The messages get a touch preachy at times, the world building drags on a bit, and at the end when I think about it, I’m not entirely sure that Sam’s town is safe from further word predation. Yet I enjoyed the characters of the book and how inventive it all is. Let’s give the goblins the annual “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness” compiled by Lake Superior State University – starting with “pandemic.” C+/B-