Philomena: A Tale from the Cor Novan Sky Almanac, the debut novel of Mark Guiney, is a few hundred pages of flying through the sky under lighter-than-air envelopes of aether; meeting charming, quirky, and treacherous, characters; and journeying to mesmerizing and increasingly perilous places. The story’s world-building and fast-paced action rivals series like Redwall, books by Brandon Mull, or Wayne Thomas Batson’s wonderful Isle of Swords series.
There’s a dash of magic, a boatload of imagination, and a large helping of adventurous fun in this beautifully written story. Cyprian, a talented young airman, is gathering a motley crew with plans no more ambitious than to use his father’s old airship Philomena to deliver some cargo. He becomes involved in more than he bargained for with the arrivals of Veronica, a girl who’s as quick and sharp as her pearl-handled rapier, and Basil, a timid, bookish boy who is carrying a dangerous secret. As luck will have it, the crew of the Philomena are swept up on a journey to save the world from disaster by bringing back the rule of the rightful Sovereign and thwarting the tyrannical Imperium Titus’s plans.
By the time I finished the first few pages, I was in. This particular passage is one of my favorites from the book. Cyprian’s a blast.
“Will this work?” cried one of the airmen in a high-pitched voice.
“There’s a simple test for that,” Cyprian said, slamming powder and shot into the barrel. “If you’re dead twenty seconds from now, it didn’t work.”
The sound from above was getting closer. A talon sliced through the lower half of the envelope.
“Quickly now!” cried the other airman.
With shaking fingers, Cyprian fed a fuse through the breech and lit it. With a cry, they threw themselves behind Grace’s rear mast. Cyprian slammed his hands over his ears and hunkered down to avoid the blast, trying not to feel sorry for himself. The morning had started so well.
While the book is aimed at a middle-grade/high school audience, its imagination, humor, solid writing, and memorable characters will interest older readers as well. The author has hinted he may write more books in the series, though it’s not clear when they’ll be finished.
Philomena truly is a tremendously fun, action-packed quest with a riveting cast of characters and a fantastic world brimming with villainous bandits, unlikely heroes, and giant toxic slugs around every turn.
Have you read Philomena? Leave a comment and let me know. See you next month!
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