The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos – Review

The Planet Thieves

Book Jacket:

The Planet Thieves is the first thrilling installment of a new middle-grade series by Dan Krokos.

Two weeks ago, thirteen-year-old Mason Stark and seventeen of his fellow cadets from the Academy for Earth Space Command boarded the SS Egypt. The trip was supposed to be a short routine voyage to log their required spacetime for summer quarter.

But routine goes out the airlock when they’re attacked by the Tremist, an alien race who have been at war with humanity for the last sixty years.

With the captain and crew dead, injured, or taken prisoner, Mason and the cadets are all that’s left to warn the ESC. And soon they find out exactly why the Tremist chose this ship to attack: the Egypt is carrying a weapon that could change the war forever.

Now Mason will have to lead the cadets in a daring assault to take back the ship, rescue the survivors, and recover the weapon. Before there isn’t a war left to fight.

You can read an excerpt here.


Well, that was frustrating.

I really, truly enjoyed the first half of this book – it’s pretty much a MG version of Star Trek (the J.J. Abrams movie), where a group of cadets suddenly find themselves Earth’s last hope for survival (i.e. pure sci-fi fun) – but then, then it all went horribly awry. Out of nowhere this book suddenly took a left turn out of sci-fi adventure-ville and got completely lost in the zany cartoon wilderness – and it was just way too over the top. Pretty much every genre cliche but the kitchen sink started bombarding the narrative – a Lost Heir! A Book of Knowledge! A Hidden Past! A Special Magical Affinity! Random Monster Attacks to Unite the Enemies! – and for me it pushed this book off the cliff of fun and dashed it to pieces on the rocks of ridiculously annoying contrivance. If this was a movie, I’d say they let the special effects overpower the story, because that’s what it felt like – like it was all hand-waving, just random story explosions with no purpose or heart. And frankly, at that point, mentally and emotionally I just checked out – and it took some muscling to get me through to the end.

Now before you think I’m an enemy to all things sci-fi, let me qualify my reaction a bit – because usually I’m the one who loves this stuff. I mean, I’m a huge fan of Trek, anime and cartoons (seriously, I love that The Hub is playing Batman Beyond again); I can’t wait to read the next book in Marissa Meyer’s Cinder series, and heck, I even managed to enjoy the movie Lockout (which was so bad it was good). So it’s not like I look down my nose at zany genre fun on principle – it’s just that, here, it didn’t work for me. And I think the reason why it didn’t is this: I need a baseline of credibility, of integrity, when it comes to the fantastic – I don’t care how insane things get so long as it all stays true to the story’s rules and intent. But in this book, for me that credibility went out the window about the time the aliens turned out to be magical wizards – because here’s the thing: in a sci-fi space opera world, cool tech we humans call “magic” for lack of a better word is awesome, but aliens who suddenly morph into wizards for no story reason whatsoever, i.e. pretty much just as an excuse to have cool “magic” fight scenes – to me, that’s just a cheat. Yet as the story went on, that kind of stuff just kept on coming – frankly the whole Hidden Past sequence on the planet (which I’m not going to spoil, don’t worry) was, to my mind, completely out of left field, entirely unearned, and totally ridiculous – I didn’t buy any of it – and the whole Lost Heir storyline was painfully abrupt, not to mention generic and frankly unnecessary. It was all too much, and it just didn’t work for me.

But the thing about it all that truly drove me NUTS was the fact that this story just didn’t need to go there, at all, because what it HAD going for it (for the first half, at least) was so much better than all that. I loved how Mason, the very Kirk-like leading teen, was too smart for his own good, and how he had to figure out how to be a leader, and I loved the scary aliens, and watching the totally inexperienced cadets try to figure out how to pull off a huge rescue mission, not to mention the cool space ships and fun sci-fi weapons – it was all awesome. I just wish THAT had been the whole story. 

So in the end, while there was potential here, sadly it got lost in the fray. 

Byrt Grade: B/B-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews says:

With a total disregard for the laws of physics and nearly every other science, Krokos kicks off a series of sci-fi adventures with this overstuffed, nonstop adventure that harkens back to pulpy space operas. Far too many plot points tangle a narrative chock-full of one-dimensional characters who excel far too easily at the heroics they must perform.

Publishers Weekly says:

The intriguing concept, intense sense of adventure, and high stakes are more than enough to let readers look past the coincidences that help drive the story.