On Earth, Jonah Hillcrest is a loner. But after he finds himself aboard a spaceship called the Fantastic Flying Squirrel, he’s recruited into the ranks of the Incredible Space Raiders – an army of children on a mission to save the galaxy from aliens known as the Entirely Evil Things.
Redubbed “Jonah the Now Incredible,” our reluctant hero wonders: if the Space Raiders are the good guys (and girls), why is their ship crewed by evil pirates? What happened to the Space Raiders who already reached the Dark Zone (where the Entirely Evil Things come from)? And what are a group of children doing fighting an alien menace anyway?
Jonah’s determination to answer these questions give Wesley King’s cheerful sci-fi romp the momentum of a mystery and the pace (if not the depth) of the early Harry Potter books. (The Squirrel is a sort of Hogwarts in space – a massive, creaking, dripping castle of a ship complete with its own ghost, known as the Shrieker, which is said to devour kids.)
The Raiders give themselves epic monikers like the Avenger, the Ninja, or simply the Awesome, and wield weapons they call “bonkers.” They are self-governed by a set of stern, slightly silly rules, and have makeshift uniforms and assigned ranks – an imaginary hierarchy Jonah must navigate to solve the mystery behind the Squirrel’s mission.
For a time, the Raiders’ orderly existence and otherworldy opponents seem to be there just… because. These things are broadly accepted, and – for the reader – that’s okay. That the truth is much less surreally fun and all the answers are easily forthcoming by the book’s conclusion is thus somehow disappointing. Another quibble: a superfluous romantic subplot relegates key supporting characters to mere girlfriend status, a shame considering the otherwise varied crew. In the end however, King turns it all around, fulfilling the promise of the Raiders’ own self-proclaimed greatness, and setting them up for a galaxy of sequels.