Home > Book Reviews > Urchin of the Riding Stars by M.I. McAllister

Urchin of the Riding Stars by M.I. McAllister

Every so often, I need to read a more lighthearted book, a book that doesn’t necessarily include complex conceits (paradoxes, hard core scientific principles) or Machiavellian intrigues.  Sometimes, I just need to read about squirrels.

Urchin of the Riding Stars is one of those books.  This is the first of several adventures of “The Mistmantle Chronicles” (and the only one I have read so far).

Mistmantle is an island surrounded by a mysterious mist which prevents those creatures who leave it from ever returning in the same manner.  The island inhabitants are squirrels, moles, otters, and hedgehogs.  The animals retain most of characteristics of their species but do have a level of civilization and culture.  The royal court lives in a castle (one of the few buildings specifically mentioned since most of the commoners seem to live in tunnels and burrows) filled with tapestries, called “threadings” by the animals.  The captains of the guard wear cloaks and carry swords and daggers.  Small merchant vessels trade with other parts of the kingdom.  However, writing is unknown, so verbal instructions are given and are sometimes reinforced by a dried leaf imprinted with the paw print of the official.

Throughout the book is the optimism and cheerfulness of Urchin, a foundling squirrel who ultimately become a page to one of the captains.  One of the most memorable images is when Urchin is asked to deliver a message and, instead of using the stairs, he hops out of the nearest window, scurries up the side of the castle, and back in through a window on another floor.  The other image is of “Hope”, an extremely near-sighted hedgehog whose endearing qualities of innocence, bravery, and sheer cuteness make him the nursery’s pet.

Unfortunately, the idyllic kingdom has begun to rot from within.  A twisted captain has influenced the hedgehog king (the kingship rotates between the species when the line fails) through drugged wine and despair and intends to rule the kingdom with an iron fist.

The book is a wonderful mix of joyful fun but surprising sadness and violence.  Although much of the violence is done somewhat “off-stage”, there are enough deaths and sad partings to make this more than just a children’s book.

I listened to the audio version performed by Andrew Sachs, whose narrative and character voices are well suited to the genre.

4 1/2 stars out of 5.

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