What if the Wizards of Waverly Place contest took place on a pirate privateer ship? One that happened to inhabit a Star Trek/Wars type universe? Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?
Wait, you’re not familiar with the greatest sitcom of our era? The spiritual successor to the sheer magic that was TGIF in the 90s? Well in Waverly Place, three very different siblings with “magical powers”, (or in the case ofTJP, “pirate skills”,) are competing to see who will be the “family wizard,” (or “captain”,) in a “contest”, (“Log”,) to see who is most worthy of continuing to use their “magic”, (“skills,”) when Reasons dictate only one of them can keep being a “wizard,” (“captain”) after they grow up.
The Jupiter Pirates are mom, Diocletia, the winner of the captain contest last generation; dad, Mavry, her first mate; Huff, Dio's dad who was wounded in a battle and is now a cyborg; and the kids. Carlo, the eldest, a pilot in training who hasn’t met a problem he can’t fly in circles around. Under him are the twins, Yana and Tycho. Yana has the old pirate mentality. She doesn’t want to be the most beautiful, but the girl with the most firepower. Why save someone if they’re not paying? Tycho, our protagonist, is kind of the runt of the litter. While Carlo flies and Yana runs system scans, he’s left to monitor the communications lines. (Hey there’s nothing wrong with being Uhura, kid.) He feels like he has no chance of becoming captain, because all the glory goes into the Log as being his siblings’.
The novel may be set in 2893, but back here in 2013, that’s still a plot that resonates. Apparently sibling rivalry and envy will keep on trucking well into the next centuries.
Tycho gets his big break when the privateers come across a freighter during his nighttime watch. As the one technically in charge when the freighter was spotted, he gets the honor of being the one to capture her. Unfortunately, something goes awry, which leads into the mystery the family will have to work together to solve.
Again, I think the plot is relevant and relatable. There's a scene about no longer feeling at home in your childhood house, and another about not molding yourself to society's expectations. The mystery is mostly fluffy and uncomplicated, taking a backseat to the interpersonal issues that arise from being stuck in a space craft with your family for weeks on end.
Content wise, there are a couple of space battles with some scary scenes. There are injuries, though mostly shrugged off, and deaths of bad guys and nameless good guys. I'm seeing some people shelve this as YA instead of MG, but I don't think the content is worthy of bumping it up. There's no romance or love interests. The only characters who aren't related to the Hashoones are the villains.
I really enjoyed The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra.It's rare that MG tackles sci-fi in a deep way, and make no mistake, there is world-building in the book. A good amount. It does feel a bit derivative of adult sci-fi, including an un-winnable simulation to teach the sibs humility, (Kobayashi Maru, anyone?) I hope as the series progresses, we see more the the piracy and privateering, as those were the best parts. I do wonder, though, why the loser siblings don't just get their own space ships and then everyone can be the captain?