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Skandar and the Phantom Rider

Book #2 of Skandar
LIST PRICE $9.99

About The Book

Skandar’s adventure among the warrior unicorns continues in this “riveting” (Kirkus Reviews) sequel to the instant New York Times and international bestseller Skandar and the Unicorn Thief.

Skandar Smith has achieved his dream: to train as a unicorn rider. But as Skandar and his friends enter their second year at the Eyrie, a new threat arises. Immortal wild unicorns are somehow being killed, a prophecy warns of terrible danger, and elemental destruction begins to ravage the Island.

Meanwhile, Skandar’s sister, Kenna, longs to join him, and Skandar is determined to help her, no matter what. As the storm gathers, can Skandar find the key to stop the Island tearing itself apart before it’s too late for them all?

Excerpt

Kenna: The Knock at the Door

KENNA The Knock at the Door
ON THE EVE OF THE summer solstice, Kenna Smith sat on the beach and watched the sun sink into the sea. As the lights of Margate sparkled to life behind her, she took Skandar’s letter out of her pocket, stared at the envelope, and then put it away again—unopened. She’d had it for three days. She wanted to read it. She really did. She missed her brother so much that sometimes when she was half-asleep, she’d take a breath to whisper to him in the dark. Something silly. Something scared. Something secret. And then she’d remember that his bed was empty. That it had been empty for almost a year. Instead, he slept in a treehouse on the Island, and in the daytime he learned elemental magic with his very own unicorn.

That was the problem with the letters. They reminded Kenna that she was never going to have a unicorn. Two years ago, she’d failed the Hatchery exam that determined whether she was destined to become a rider. That meant she was never going to bond with a unicorn, and she was never going to live on the Island. And ever since Kenna had visited Skandar a few weeks ago and met his unicorn, Scoundrel’s Luck, she was finding it much harder to read her brother’s letters.

She couldn’t stop thinking about the way Skandar and Scoundrel had mirrored each other’s movements like they were carved from the same soul. The way the muscles in the black unicorn’s neck had rippled, sparks flying off his wings like flecks of stardust. The fierce love in Skandar’s eyes when he’d looked at Scoundrel. A bond that went deeper than brother and sister. A bond that could make magic.

Kenna brushed sand off her feet and put her school shoes back on. Her friends had been here earlier—her new ones who didn’t care about unicorns. When she’d returned from watching Skandar’s Training Trial, she’d become so fed up with everyone asking about the Island that she’d venomously announced that it was a worse version of the Mainland and that unicorns were just scary horses with ugly wings. Most people hadn’t liked hearing that, but the anti-unicorn crowd had treated her like their queen.

At break they’d huddled around Kenna and laughed as she told them how the riders were forced to dress in battered old jackets and live up in trees. And Kenna had felt a glimmer of hope that she might belong here on the Mainland after all. That she could do this. She’d even refused to watch the Chaos Cup this year with her dad. She’d pretended not to see the hurt on his face when she’d left him by the TV to watch the world-famous unicorn race on his own. Kenna had stopped herself from thinking about how disappointed her mum would have been in her, and instead she’d wandered the deserted town center with her new friends.

That day Kenna had missed Nina Kazama becoming Commodore of Chaos—the first Mainlander in history to win the Chaos Cup. She’d acted like she wasn’t bothered. But when she’d shut herself away in her bedroom, she’d watched hundreds of clips of Nina and her unicorn, Lightning’s Mistake, passing under the finish arch. And she’d realized she didn’t really belong with her new friends, that she was only pretending.

Arriving home, Kenna punched in the code for the main door of Sunset Heights and thought about the treehouses she’d glimpsed on the Island. She couldn’t help wishing that she lived with Skandar and his friends in the Eyrie and that she had a unicorn like Scoundrel’s Luck in the stables below. The truth of it, even after two whole years, was that Kenna still wanted a unicorn more than anything else in the world.

“Kenna?”

“Hi, Dad,” she called as she let herself into Flat 207.

He was already dressed for his night shift at the gas station. She was relieved—some days she had to talk him into going to work, and some days there was no persuading him. But today was an easier day—the kind Kenna reported to Skandar in her letters, not one of the tougher ones she kept to herself.

They stepped round each other in the hallway—a familiar dance. She snagged her jacket on the hook behind his head, as he dropped his keys into the front pocket of his shirt.

“Did you check the mail?” Dad asked.

What he was really asking was whether there’d been a letter from Skandar.

“Yeah, I checked it. Nothing,” Kenna lied.

“Ah well. Won’t be long, I expect.” Dad kissed her on the top of the head. “Night, sweetheart. See you in the morning.”

Skandar’s letter burned in her pocket as she retreated to her bedroom. Kenna knew she should have shared it with Dad, but she couldn’t face it—not tonight. It was the eve of the summer solstice. Thirteen-year-olds across the country had taken their Hatchery exams today, all hoping to hear five knocks on the door at midnight—to be summoned to become unicorn riders. Kenna was sure that if she’d told Dad about the letter, all he would want to do was talk about Skandar being called to the Island this time last year.

In fact, all Dad ever wanted to talk about was Skandar and Scoundrel’s Luck. It made Kenna feel like anything she did—getting a high mark on a math test, making a new friend, crying herself to sleep—wasn’t even worth mentioning. Though she had to admit she loved seeing Dad happy—for most of her childhood he’d barely smiled. So Kenna was trapped between her own feelings and his.

But she was keeping something else from Dad besides her unhappiness. Kenna was convinced that there had been more to Skandar’s unusual journey to the Island than he was letting on. She’d combed through every book in the library, every website, every forum for evidence that some children were so talented they weren’t required to take the Hatchery exam.

There was nothing. Every child who turned thirteen before the summer solstice was required to take the Hatchery exam. It was in the Treaty. It was the law. Though, apparently, that hadn’t applied to Skandar. Kenna was ashamed of the unkind thoughts that filled her head. How she had always been stronger, faster, cleverer. She’d helped raise Skandar; she would have known if he was exceptional. And—although she loved him very much—he wasn’t. He’d always needed her. And that had to mean Skandar was hiding something.

It was late now. Kenna wriggled under her duvet, placing Skandar’s letter carefully on her bedside table. She’d read it tomorrow. Maybe. She stared up at the ceiling, willing herself not to wait for midnight. It would be the third midnight she’d been left without a knock on the door and a call to the Island. She tried not to imagine her own unicorn, the way she had on the summer solstice her whole life: its color, its wings, its elemental allegiance.

Knock. Knock.

Kenna sat bolt upright. Had Dad forgotten his keys? But, no, she’d seen him drop them into his pocket.

Knock. Knock.

She wasn’t dreaming. She was definitely awake.

Kenna tiptoed to the front door and hesitated. She’d answer the door if there was another knock. Otherwise she’d be sensible. She’d go back to bed.

KNOCK.

Heart pounding, Kenna threw open the door of Flat 207 and found herself facing a pale man dressed all in black. The man’s green eyes flicked to the left and right of her, and then settled unnervingly on her face. His cheekbones looked dangerously sharp in the corridor light, and a strange flash of silver came from his tongue as he opened his mouth to speak.

“Dorian Manning.” He held out a thin hand.

Kenna didn’t take it.

“President of the Hatchery and head of the Silver Circle.” He cleared his throat importantly and scrunched up his nose like he expected her to say something—it made him look like a sewer rat.

“Okay…” Kenna’s heart beat wildly at his mention of the Hatchery, but she managed to keep her voice level as she tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear. “And what are you doing here?”

“I’ve come to make you a deal,” he said pompously.

Kenna started to shut the door. This man was clearly some kind of unicorn eccentric. It was just a coincidence that he’d knocked in the first minutes of the summer solstice. The disappointment settled on top of all the others Kenna had suffered, and it hardened her heart a fraction more.

But the door wouldn’t close. Dorian Manning had blocked it with the toe of his shiny black boot.

“Aren’t you interested in finding your destined unicorn, Kenna Smith?”

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

Skandar and the Phantom Rider

By A.F. Steadman

About the Book

Skandar Smith has achieved his dream: to train as a unicorn rider. But as Skandar and his friends enter their second year at the Eyrie, a new threat arises. Immortal wild unicorns are somehow being killed, a prophecy warns of danger, and elemental destruction begins to ravage the Island. Meanwhile, Skandar’s sister, Kenna, longs to join him, and Skandar is determined to help her, no matter what. As the storm gathers, can Skandar find the key to stop the Island from tearing itself apart before it’s too late?

Discussion Questions

1. If you read the first book, Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, how do you feel this sequel compares to that? Had you predicted any of the events that happened to Skandar and his friends in this second book? Is there evidence in this book to suggest there might be a third Skandar novel coming? Support your theory and predict what might happen in the next installment.

2. A book’s prologue should intrigue readers and pull them into the main story. How did you feel reading this book’s prologue? The prologue describes a masked rider: “The rider’s eyes flickered with fear as the Weaver’s immortal creature circled him. He was always afraid of her. And it made him feel alive.” What do you think this means? How can fear make you feel alive? Describe a time when being afraid or nervous was worth the excitement of the outcome.

3. Now that they are in their second year at the Eyrie, Skandar and his friends get to visit some of the elemental zones on the Island. Which zone do you think would be most interesting to visit? What do you think of the Island setting? What aspects of the Island make it feel like a real place, and what makes it feel more magical or legendary?

4. Have you read other books that take place in a boarding school? What are some common story elements you can recognize about this setting? How would you feel if you had to attend a boarding school? How would you feel about being separated from your local friends and your family? What would your ideal boarding school specialize in?

5. Why do you think the author chose to include intermittent chapters from Kenna’s point of view? On the Mainland, the two siblings were close—but when Kenna sees Skandar and his unicorn, Scoundrel, together, she observes that they share “a bond that went deeper than brother and sister.” (p. 4) Talk about how Skandar’s choices throughout the story support this idea. If his actions are motivated by wanting to fix things for Kenna, why doesn’t he tell her the full story?

6. Kenna’s desire for a unicorn of her own makes her envious of Skandar. Have you ever felt envious of a sibling or a friend? In addition to being envious, Kenna is angry at her brother and feels she can’t trust him. Why does she feel this way? What does Kenna and Skandar’s relationship have in common with that of siblings Agatha and Erika Everhart?

7. Do you think Skandar’s friend Bobby is envious of him? What do you think about her decision to “branch out” and to distance herself from Skandar? She tells him: “‘I don’t want to be your sidekick. . . . I want to be the hero of my own story.’” (p. 143) Kenna decides that she will rescue herself when she has a chance to escape from the Silver Stronghold. What other books have you read where a female character is the hero? In what other ways are Bobby and Kenna alike?

8. Despite making friends and belonging to the Grins, Skandar spends much of the book feeling like an outsider. Why does he feel this way? How do different characters reach out or support Skandar throughout the book?

9. Do you think it’s fair that most of the kids don’t trust Skandar because he’s a spirit wielder? Why is it that Skandar’s friends do trust him? What do you think of the Peregrine Society members, and how do you think they feel about Skandar? Using textual evidence from the novel, describe why you think Skandar is or isn’t a trustworthy character. Who does Skandar trust?

10. The Grins make Skandar feel confident and self-assured because he feels like he fits in, like kids who belong to a team or club. What kind of groups, clubs, or teams help you feel like you belong? How can being with people you feel connected to make you feel more confident? And how can being with people who are not like you feel dangerous?

11. [Spoiler Alert] At one point, Mitchell points out that “‘fathers can be complicated.’” (p. 315) Talk about some of the complicated relationships the unicorn riders have with their parents. How does Mitchell change his behavior to try to live up to his dad’s expectations? Why does Rex Manning try to stop his father from killing wild unicorns? Do you agree with Flo when she tells Mitchell his father “‘should love you as you are—not who he wants you to be’?” (p. 266)

12. Identify and discuss some of the good times that Skandar and his group of friends enjoy. When do these moments occur within the novel? Why do you think these moments are few and far between? Flo does tell Skandar: “‘I wish we could both be ordinary.’” (p. 416) He replies: “I think the truth is that nobody in the whole world is ordinary. . . . I think we’re better off trying to be as extraordinary as possible.” Do you agree with him, that nobody is ordinary? What types of characteristics might make someone seem extraordinary?

13. Jamie sees that Skandar is extraordinary when he says, about the Island: “‘I’m talking about it being rotten at its core . . . stopping that—it’s on you, Skandar. I’m sorry, but it is.’” (p. 351) Bobby tells Skandar, “‘You always end up saving the day . . . because you actually give a damn about doing the right thing.’” (p. 298) What do you think are Skandar’s main motivations for wanting to do the right thing?

14. The First Rider tells Skandar, “‘It only takes a few good riders to change things’” after Skandar and his friends work together to find the bone staff. (p. 438) Discuss other books you’ve read where a group of friends work together to do great things and save the world from evil. Flo tells Skandar, “‘Something about you makes me feel braver.’” (p. 208) Give some examples of how Skandar feels about his friends. What are some of the things they do to help him? How would the story have been different if he did not have his friends to support him?

15. When Agatha talks to Skandar about the dark side of being a spirit wielder, she says, “‘It takes courage to keep choosing to turn away from it.’” (p. 150) Talk about some of the courageous things Skandar does throughout the novel. What about his friends? What are some of the ways they show their own courage? Do you consider yourself a brave person? Describe a time when you had to show courage despite being afraid.

16. When Kenna shows up at the Eyrie with her wild unicorn, she and Skandar have an angry argument before they smooth things over between them and she helps heal the Island. By the end of the book, Skandar feels hopeful that his and Kenna’s relationship is back to normal. How do you think Skandar and Kenna’s relationship has fared? Will her desire to be reconciled with their mother turn out to be more powerful than her love for Skandar?

17. The First Rider tells Skandar: “The one you love the most will betray you.” (p. 349) Who do you think he means, and why? Why does it hurt more when the betrayer is someone you love?

Extension Activities

Writing

1. The prologue and the epilogue of this book both have the same first sentence:

“Two unicorns crossed a battle-scarred plain on a moonless night.”

Use this as the first sentence of an original short story, NOT set in Skandar’s world.

2. In chapter twelve, when Skandar is trying to convince the quartet that they can find the tomb of the First Rider, he points out the strengths of his friends. Choose one of the people below and use the sentence as a starting place to write a character sketch of them, using examples from the novel to build your sketch.

- Mitchell, who is “better than any library, who comes up with the most bonkers-but-genius plans.”

- Bobby, who “is the most ambitious rider out there, with unbelievably strong magic.”

- Flo “has the might of a silver behind her, and is the bravest rider I know.”

- Skandar, who wields the spirit element and “is so open-minded that he never judges anyone.”

3. When Skandar discovers that he may be a Mender, he is excited about the possibility of uniting Kenna and her unicorn. Imagine that you are a Mender and that with your powers you could fix anything broken. Write an essay talking about what you’d choose to fix, and how you would fix it.

4. Flo’s mother, Sara, encourages the kids not to give into the bullies and says, “So the people with the power don’t like spirit wielders. What if they decide they don’t like healers next? Or saddlers? Or riders with flaming hair? Nothing gives the Silver Circle the right to abuse their power.” (p. 100) Write an opinion essay about why we should stand up to bullies who are trying to abuse their power. It can be political, about world or national affairs, or it can be personal, about people or kids in your own community.

5. Pretend you’re an Island travel agent, and write a brochure describing all the things to do and see in an elemental zone of your choosing from the Island.

Art

1. There’s a map of the Island at the beginning of the book. Using this map as a starting place, create a larger version and add your own details, style, and color to it, noting places where story events happen or places you imagine are there but the story hasn’t taken the reader to yet.

2. The book’s cover is very exciting and is meant to draw readers in. Imagine a different cover and bring it to life. Alternatively, imagine and draw a cover (and title!) for the next book.

3. Draw the prologue/epilogue scene, trying to express the mood and mystery it implies.

4. Create a poster advertising the Saddle Ceremony or the Chaos Cup.

Note: Page numbers refer to the hardcover edition of this title.

Guide written by Bobbie Combs, a consultant at We Love Children’s Books.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.

About The Author

Photograph by Annabel Church

A.F. Steadman grew up in the Kent countryside, getting lost in fantasy worlds and scribbling stories in notebooks. Before focusing on writing, she worked in law, until she realized that there wasn’t nearly enough magic involved. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling Skandar series.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (May 7, 2024)
  • Length: 528 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665912778
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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