I am a big fan of sci-fi so I was thrilled to read a middle-grade book set in space - there are not many about. Thankfully 'Orion Lost' absolutely corners the market and is thrilling too! This is 'Star Trek' for kids. In fact, if this book was an episode it would be hailed as one of the best in the history of Star Trek. I loved it!
Beth and her parents join the transport ship Orion on a mission to colonize a new planet. Unfortunately Beth suffers acute sickness and is petrified of the sheer vastness and blackness of space. But when an 'event' damages the ship and leaves it stranded, Beth is suddenly assigned captain. She must somehow overcome her insecurities to lead her friends and other children through dangerous regions of the galaxy. Who can Beth trust and does she have the strength to overcome the incredible challenges she faces?
My first thought when picking this up was that it seemed quite long for an MG book. Some children might be dissuaded by this; however, 'Orion Lost' was so gripping and engrossing that the pages zoomed by, like a ship 'jumping', that it never felt long at all. Alastair Chisholm knows how to keep the tension and stakes high throughout, while building the mystery through little asteroid clues, which jostle and collide in the plot with a great sense of fun. As a setting, Orion is so well-realized; it is familiar, so easy to imagine, but also has unique features that feel fresh and exciting. There are enough gadgets and technological gizmos to keep kids interested - especially kids who love science.
As with Star Trek, there is a moral core to 'Orion Lost' which really gives it the edge over a standard space adventure. It explores themes that deal with teamwork, leadership, exposing your vulnerabilities and finding humility in a huge, frightening universe. The repeated message of being the 'master of your own ship' is a great one for children, and a wonderful mental health discussion point. It is really fun to read a book where children are thrust into adult roles (and at one point quite literally) but have to find a way to act adult or meet their demise.
I was really impressed with 'Orion Lost' - I honestly could have read even more about Beth's adventures in space. So I'm hoping there might be a sequel in the works, as this is a universe I'd happily return to.