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My first review of the school summer holidays is Vashti Hardy's excellent 'Crowfall.' If you enjoyed 'Brightstorm' and 'Wildspark' (winner of the Blue Peter Best Story 2020) then you're in for another treat. With lots of peril, cinematic world-building and an environmental message, this is Hardy at her most risk-tasking and playful - and it's a joy!

Orin Crowfall lives on the industrial island of Ironhold, where prosperity and order is deemed more important than nature. Overhearing that Commander Forge plans to destroy the island to take its remaining life-force, Orin and his robot companion Cody flee before capture. On a journey across treacherous waters, pursued by a mechanical sea monster, Orin and Cody wash up on a mysterious island. Natura seems like an idyllic place, where nature rules - will it be the salvation for Orin and the future of Ironhold? Can Orin return and stop Commander Forge?

An interesting fact: Hardy wrote this way before Brightstorm when she was with the Golden Egg Academy, but it wasn't quite ready for publication back then. So it's reassuring to know that those old manuscripts (for anyone) can come into being again. And with Hardy's experience now, she has been able to refashion 'Crowfall' into a brilliantly structured, highly imaginative and exciting published book! (Her fifth from Scholastic). However, she hasn't forgotten the roots of the story, dedicating the book to 'Mother Goose' of the Golden Egg Academy: Imogen Cooper.

I think 'Crowfall' is probably Hardy's most accomplished middle-grade book yet. It effortlessly weaves an ecological concept with trademark world-building and endearing characters. The juxtaposition between Ironhold and Natura is riveting to read and some of the descriptions are Hardy at her most vivid and startling. In some ways, Hardy inhabits the same imaginative space as Ursula le Guin, mixing science-fiction, fantasy and fable. It's almost Taoist in its message about ecological balance and the dangers of authoritarian societies - but maybe that's just me. Yet the story is never preachy. Instead, it is packed with peril: sea monsters, wild weather and selfish villains.  On top of that we have the highly likeable characters of Orin and Cody - a pairing of human and robot to match characters found in Star Wars. 

There is so much to enjoy about Crowfall. Another top class book from Vashti Hardy!


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