First of all, that cover! 'Wildspark' probably has one of the best covers for children I have seen in a long time. Huge credit to the illustrator. So I approached reading it with a great deal of excitement. I haven't read 'Brightstorm', so I didn't know what to expect from Vashti Hardy. Needless to say, 'Wildspark' sizzles with invention, bursts with extraordinary concepts and delights with a wonderful and weird cast of characters.
Prue Haywood sets off for the incredible city of Medlock, determined to bring her brother back from the dead. The secretative 'Guild of Ghosts' has the technology to capture the spirits of dead people in animal-like machines. Posing as her brother, Prue becomes Frances and an apprentice to the guild. But what will her research into the 'wildspark' uncover and will it really be possible or right to see her brother again?
'Wildspark' is a mammoth achievement. Somehow Vashti Hardy manages to bridge the gap between Harry Potter and His Dark Materials, while having her own distinct style. Prue is an instantly likeable character, and in some ways the central three characters of Prue, Edwin and Agapantha resemble the dynamic between Harry, Ron and Hermoine. There is a lot of promise for them in this regard, if this turns out to be a look-lasting series (which I hope it does). What Hardy does best is dialogue, and most of the plot is fired up and propelled forwards by tantalizing conversations and secrets in corners. Again this is similar to Harry Potter. But Hardy is also able to evoke a lot of atmosphere and allow space for the reader to imagine and feel in the gaps. Medlock and the rest of the world of 'Wildspark' is bursting at the seams with ideas, and I really look forward to seeing where this might go. This feels very much like the set-up for something with even bigger scope.
Why His Dark Materials? Because 'Wildspark' promises something much darker and deeper than its Harry Potter veneer. Moral questions are raised and I'm sure there will be more about rights, free will and politics to come. This is all good.
'Wildspark' is a whole lot of fun, and will be especially enjoyed by fans of Harry Potter, Nevermore and His Dark Materials. And that is praise indeed.