Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by A. F. Steadman

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief


GoodreadsSkandar and the Unicorn Thief
Series: Skandar #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022


Skandar Smith dreams of leaving the Mainland to join the Island as a unicorn rider. All he has to do is pass the Hatchery exam, and he will be one of the chosen few to travel to the island and hatch a real, life unicorn. But not the type of unicorns people on the Mainland thought were cute (and imaginary). Real life unicorns are vicious, violent creatures who can control the elements, and share that magic with their bonded riders.

But the Hatchery exam does not go as planned, and Skandar finds his world shrinking–until a stranger knocks on his door at midnight and smuggles him onto the Island. People are disappearing, and a mysterious figure known as the Weave is stealing unicorns. And Skandar might be the only one who can save the Island.

Star Divider


Skandar and the Unicorn Thief proved a bit of a rollercoaster read for me. While it starts out feeling a bit slow and rather derivative, over time the pace picks up and the action drew me in. I initially thought I would end up DNFing the book, but discovered that I eventually enjoyed it for what it is–a fun middle grade fantasy that does not try to do much of anything new, but does relish in bringing out all the old favorite tropes. A solid read I think tween readers especially will enjoy.

The main draw for Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is presumably the “twist” on unicorn lore–the book makes a big deal out of noting that unicorns in this world are not the cute, rainbow-pooping creatures trending in pop culture right now, but rather vicious monsters who can kill. There are actually numerous fantasy books were unicorns are presented as wild and dangerous, so it’s not that original. However, I will accept that today’s tweens are so immersed in the glittery kind of unicorns that this might seem incredibly weird and innovative to the target audience.

And that’s the main draw, initially. “Look how scary these things are!” the book shouts. “They shoot lightning! They can trample you to death!” The dangerousness of unicorns is so hyped up, I began to wonder exactly why the protagonist wanted a unicorn of his own. Unicorn riders are treated as international celebrities, and audiences gather worldwide to watch the riders and their unicorns fight it out to see who will be in charge of the unicorn Island. But…it all seems so bloodthirsty! Why should I sympathize with Skandar wanting a unicorn of his very own so he can try to kill or maim another rider just so he can be on TV?? But this is to wonder too much. I think it’s just supposed to be like Pokemon, where you watch “caring” humans battle and injure their beloved animals and cheer them on instead of reporting them to the authorities responsible for animal welfare. So, if you or your child likes Pokemon, maybe Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is for you!

Despite all the hype about these bizarrely non-sparkly unicorns, however, the beginning feels slow. I felt like I could have been reading just about any other middle grade fantasy and getting a similar experience. The worldbuilding tried for something unique, but making the boarding school be a series of treehouses did not feel all that innovative. Then, once the pacing picked up, it felt choppy, with Skandar and his friends too easily completing different tasks that should have been impossible for a bunch of new students with almost no training.

By the middle of the book, however, I did somehow find myself immersed. I began to get more interested in the question of who the Unicorn Thief was, and what their end goal is. The pacing was still a bit uneven, with Skandar and his friends again completing tasks with a bit too much ease. But I enjoyed the action and the drama for what it was, without worrying too much that the book and its elements do not particularly stand out from similar titles.

If you enjoyed middle grade fantasy, and are looking for your next read, Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is worth a try!

4 stars

9 thoughts on “Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by A. F. Steadman

  1. mphtheatregirl says:

    As a matter of fact, some of my WIPS are have a different take on some of the common things we see in fantasy:

    1. Yes, I have fairies- but I did change that to Fairy Frogs (I actually somehow created 3 species- coming from two different WIPS). Obviously the Artist Fairy Frogs are most well-known, as they come from Tale of the Cattail Forest. But, I did create both typical Fairy Frogs (as in regular fairies), and healer Fairy Frogs (Willow is one of them)- these come from Ayra’s Story- where still have zero plot idea, but now this mountainous island is where their origins are

    2. Also from Ayra’s Story- how many books do we see with a female protagonist owning a good dragon. Ayra raised a dragon, who is named Tenisha- Ayra has some warrior qualities as a result of this

    Liked by 1 person

  2. aquavenatus says:

    I received an eARC of this book, but I wasn’t sure whether or not I should read it. Your comparison of this book to the “World of Pokemon,” is a sell for me (as a librarian). Pokemon has been around for 25 years, and unicorn lore has been around for even longer, so why not lure Pokemon fans into reading this book?! Excellent review!


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