Though marketed as a middle grade novel, do not let the age of the protagonists scare you away if you're an older reader. Krokos' sophomore novel is well-written and does not speak down to the audience. I loved Krokos' debut, False Memory, and he's hit it out of the park once again. The Planet Thieves is funny, full of adventure, and packed with delightful characters.
Novels for children and teens are full of absent parents and authority figures. This construct allows for young people to feel empowered, the weight of the world on their shoulders. Only these kids can save the day and all that. Well, Krokos does use this basic plot structure. At the beginning of The Planet Thieves, the SS Egypt is attacked by humanity's enemy, the Tremist. All of the adults on the ship but one are captured or killed, leaving the cadets, thirteen and under to save the day.
Krokos does a great job making this believable. Though the cadets are young, they are by no means out of their element entirely. They've already been in training for years, and have the skill sets they need to perform the tasks they need to, though they may not be as good as the adults yet. Also, they don't come by anything too easily. They suffer injuries, frequently consider giving up and waiting for adults to handle everything, and are stressed rather than excited by the roles they find themselves in.
That said, the cadets really rise to the occasion. The one remaining adult on the Egypt is injured, so he names Mason captain, which ends up being a great choice. Mason isn't the most talented or brilliant of the trainees, but he's creative, something he'd ill-advisedly shown in his pranks. Rather than ever giving up, his mind is always churning for solutions, and most of his ideas turn out to be good ones, though some do go awry.
The characters are likable and exhibit complexities. For example, the friendships between these cadets are tentative, so they also have to work to trust one another implicitly while facing odds they never should have been left alone to face. The villains too are much more complex than in most books for younger readers. They're not left as monsters out to destroy for the fun of it, and I love when authors take the time to establish motivations and shades of grey in the actions of the antagonists.
Another aspect that makes this book a delight are all of the references. Science fiction nerds will likely pick out even more than I did, as I'm not nearly as well read as I would like to be. Most overt perhaps are references to Star Wars and Star Trek. However, though there are cute allusions, the overall story was fresh and original.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The ending was perhaps a bit rushed.
The Final Verdict:
The ending leaves space open for more books in this world, and I, for one, would be excited to read more. I'd love to find out more about Mason and Merrin, especially. Dan Krokos' The Planet Thieves is a novel that lovers of science fiction will not want to miss, whatever their age!