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Title: The Ship of Shadows

Author: Maria Kuzniar

Published: 9th of July 2020 – Penguin

Format: eARC Netgalley – 288 pages

“And our ship is the shadow of the seas. It’s like death – you don’t see it coming. It stalks behind you, out of sight. Watching and waiting in the shadows.” – The Ship of Shadows

Hello Hello! How are you?

We are starting a new week with another #UltimateBlogTour organised by Dave from @The_WriteReads, and this week, I’m bringing you my review of The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar, an enchanting Middle Grade about a young girl named Aleja who dreams of exploring the world, and who gets the chance of a lifetime when the Ship of Shadows docks in Sevilla!

Thank you so much to Dave, Maria and Penguin for letting me take part in this tour, and thank you to Penguin and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


Aleja whiles away her days in her family’s dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she’s only ever read about in books. After all, she’s always being told that girls can’t be explorers.

But her life is changed forever when adventure comes for her in the form of a fabled vessel called the Ship of Shadows. Crewed by a band of ruthless women, with cabin walls dripping with secrets, the ship has sailed right out of a legend. And it wants Aleja.

Once on board its shadowy deck, she begins to realize that the sea holds more secrets than she ever could have imagined. The crew are desperately seeking something, and their path will take them through treacherous waters and force them to confront nightmare creatures and pitch-dark magic. It will take all of Aleja’s strength and courage to gain the trust of her fellow pirates – and discover what they are risking everything to find.


The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuznar is a Middle Grade fantasy story in which we follow Aleja, a young girl from Sevilla who dreams of travelling the world and exploring just like her favourite explorer, Thomas James. One day, she stumbles upon something she shouldn’t have found, and she is swept up in an amazing adventure when she climbs aboard the Ship of Shadows, something she could only dream about and thought was a thing of magic until she realises that magic is real, and so is the ship and its crew.

I was so excited when Dave first told me about this book. As you know, along with Noly and Holly, I host a Middle Grade Book Club (Middle Grade Marvels), and when Dave told us about this tour that he was going to host, we couldn’t wait to get the chance to read it. There is also going to be an interview slot for Middle Grade Marvels where we ask Maria some questions about her book, and I’m really looking forward to reading her answers!


This book is first set in Sevilla, in Spain, where Aleja lives with her father, grandmother and brothers. She has always dreamed of travelling, but as a young girl in a busy town, she is often pushed to the side because she isn’t a boy, but also because she isn’t a frail girl just following everyone about. As soon as I started this book, I was immersed in this new world. Sevilla automatically became very vivid for me, and I thought it had such a feeling of whimsy and enchantment, especially when Aleja would climb up on roofs and clamber around places she wasn’t supposed to be.

When she climbs aboard the Ship of Shadows, a whole new world opens up in front of her eyes, and this also happens to the reader, dragging us into this magical ship filled with hidden rooms, amazing spaces, and such a great crew. Of course, we can’t forget the cake, can we Frances? I thought that the ship was such a wonderful place, and as Aleja spends more time on the ship and with her crew members, they all become family and the ship becomes a new home to her.

They soon travel to various places, I don’t want to say too much because you need to experience it for yourself, but every new place they went, I was pulled along and everything was so magical. I loved the world-building in this book. Despite that the places they visited were often dangerous and threatening, they still appeared as magical to Aleja. I personally loved Morocco, it sounded so great and the colours and smells described were so immersive.


There are quite a few crew members on the Ship of Shadows, and also other characters throughout the book, but today I wanted to concentrate on my four favourite characters.

Aleja: Aleja is the main character of this book and I immediately liked her. She believes the world is full of magic but has yet to witness any, until the Ship of Shadows sails into the port of Sevilla. Aleja has taught herself to read in English, speaks Spanish, French and Arabic and can clamber up on top of roofs and slither in between huge crowds. She came across as such a tough cookie, but she also misses her family dearly while she is on the ship. She felt very mature for her age and I loved how excited she got about everything. I think she is now one of my favourite middle grade characters and I hope this isn’t the end of her story (if it is I’m probably going to cry).

Captain Quint: Captain Quint is such a COOL pirate! I love Pirates, I’ve watched all the Pirates of the Caribbean films multiple times, I recently read Demons of the Oceans and I’m always on the lookout for more adventure stories, especially with pirates, so when I read the blurb for this book, I was sold. Captain Quint is a very uncommon pirate, and she mans her ship with expertise and ease. She was also a great character, at times I did doubt her intentions, but she is just like Aleja, running after the next adventure. I was really intrigued to find out all about her, I did have my suspicions about herself and the ship, but when it was all revealed, I was really happy.

Malika: Malika is tough-as-nails! She is actually quite scary, but she is definitely the proverbial pirate. I loved the descriptions of this character, she seems so dangerous and deadly, but underneath she is beautiful and has her soft side. I loved the chapters where she trained the girls and when we got to learn more about her, she was really interesting and she definitely grew on me in the end.

Frances: After Aleja, Frances is probably my favourite character. I wasn’t sure about her when we met her at the start of the book, but as Aleja and Frances grow closer, she also gained a place in my heart. I thought that France was actually hilarious, and such a lovely bubbly little thing, and I know that other bloggers on this tour have thought the same thing. My favourite part about France is that she always has cake ready, be it a happy moment or a disaster, and I think I now need a France in my life, because she was amazing and never failed to make me laugh – or make me hungry.


Pirates: As I’ve said, I love pirates. But the pirates we meet in this book, and those aboard the ship of shadows are really different from other pirates, for one, they are all women. I absolutely 100% adored that fact! I read so many fantasies which do have strong women characters, but they ALWAYS have strong male characters too, like you need both for a strong fantasy or something. BUT, this book proves you don’t. These women don’t need men, they are amazing, strong, resilient, caring, ruthless and brilliant all on their own and now I am craving more books with mostly female characters. I loved these women pirates, and I hope you will too.

The Ship of Shadows: The Ship of Shadows is really different to any other pirate ship. The first glimpse of the ship we get is when it draws into the port of Sevilla, smoking and struggling along. As soon as Aleja saw it, she knew what it was and knew that magic existed as she had always believed, but the amazing thing about this ship is that even up to the last chapter, there are surprises at every turn. The crew is surprising and unique on its own, but the magic inside the ship is whimsical and absolutely enchanting, and I loved every minute that Aleja went exploring. I almost want my own pirate ship to pop up so I can go on adventures too.

Magic: I’m a sucker for magic, and even though this book doesn’t have a magic system and the plot is not based on magic per see, there is magic all throughout and this gives the story such a great atmosphere. I read a lot of fantasy books where magic is the centre point of the story, but here, magic is all around without being the thing everything turns on, and I found that great! My favourite part of the ship where definitely the shadows, but you’ll have to read it yourself to find out more.

Treasures and adventures: I have watched every single adventure, mission, treasure quest film that I could get my hands on, and these type of stories never cease to enchant me. I need to read more adventure books, but this one was an amazing place to start. There is a great adventure to be had when you open this book and start reading it, I can’t go into too much detail, but there are beasts, there is the desert, there are coded books, secrets, hidden cities, jewels, maps, caves, and much more. I loved it!


Overall, this was such an amazing story, I devoured it and absolutely adored it, from start to finish. I really loved the drawings at every chapter heading and the chapter titles that matched up with a part of the chapter, I really appreciate little touches like that that make the story even more special.

The writing style was lovely, there was a real adventurous and whimsical feel to it and I couldn’t help but keep reading to find out what would happen next. Maria has such an amazing writing style and she regales the reader with wonderful descriptions of places, people, sounds, food (I was hungry all way through) and I couldn’t get enough. The whole world exploded in colours and feelings and it’s been a while since I’ve read a book that completely drew me in. I’m not sure that everybody has the same experience when reading as it could be something to do with a photographic memory, but I could see this world and the characters so vividly, it was like I was watching a film, this world is now imprinted in my brain and I’m definitely going to enjoy travelling back into it when I’m in need of an adventure.

I gave this book 5 stars, it was incredible, I had such a great time. There were twists and turns, it was fast-paced, there were secrets, magic, a long journey, fights, splendid characters with truly enchanting stories to tell, and a treasure to find at the end. I loved it and I cannot recommend this book highly enough, you just have to read it and experience this terrific book for yourself!

That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed this review and will pick this book up too. See you soon, stay safe,

Ellie xx


Maria Kuzniar spent six years living in Spain, teaching English and travelling the world, which inspired her debut novel The Ship of Shadows. Now she lives in Nottingham with her husband, where she reads and writes as much as she can and bookstagrams at @cosyreads. She is always planning her next adventure.

Maria’s Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagram

If you would like to purchase this book, you can find it here: Amazon UK (affiliate link) – Amazon FR (affiliate link) – AbeBooks (affiliate link) – The Book Depository (affiliate link) – Audible FR (affiliate link) – Amazon USWaterstonesBarnes and NobleAudible UKKobo


  1. Fantastic and detailed review, Ellie! I’m about to start this book and I’m so excited to get to it after reading your review. It sounds like exactly my cup of tea.

    1. Thank you! It was so lovely, whimsical, beautifully written and I really hope you love it as much as I did, I can’t wait to read your review! 🙂

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