Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

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Published by Scholastic, 2019.

Wildspark is a wonderfully inventive book; Vashti Hardy has built a vividly imagined world. I was completely transported as I read and got caught up in the adventure and intrigue.

Twelve-year-old Prue Haywood lives on a farm with her parents. Her older brother Francis has recently died and the family feel his loss keenly. One day Charles Primrose, a craftsman from the Imperial Personifate Guild of Medlock, pays a visit to the farm. He has heard that Francis is a talented mechanic and, unaware of his death, wants to offer him the chance of an apprenticeship at the Guild. Prue, also a gifted engineer, decides to pose as “Frances” and takes her brother’s place. She runs away from home and travels to Medlock. Medlock is an amazing futuristic city. It’s the home of invention and technology. Its secretive guild of inventors have discovered a way to harness the spirits of the dead and bring them back for a second life. Their energy is used to power animal-like machines (the personifates) which are designed and made at the Guild. Prue wants to use this technology to bring her brother back. This very personal mission is fraught with danger and involves Prue in dishonesty and risk. It also requires her to draw on all her engineering skills; through dedicated research and careful application of her knowledge, she is able to make an important scientific and technological breakthrough.

The apprentices board at the Guild and so there’s also a fun boarding school element to the book: shared rooms, communal meals, friendships and rivalries, and a sense of community and purpose. Prue forges close friendships with Agapantha and Edwin, two other new apprentices, and has a prickly relationship with Cora, the book’s antagonist.

One of the book’s most powerful themes is bravery. The bravery that’s required when faced with very real, physical danger and the bravery needed to make extremely difficult, life-changing decisions. There are also strong themes of friendship and family, grief and loss. In addition, the book explores snobbery, prejudice and the hierarchies in society. With its focus on invention and discovery, Wildspark does much to promote science, technology, maths and engineering too.

Another aspect of the book that I particularly liked were the ethical and philosophical questions that it raised with regards to the personifates. Does the Guild have the right to bring people back without their memories? Does it even have the right to bring people back at all, without their consent? Then there’s the issue that the personifates are owned by the Guild and have been brought back to serve. Should they have more freedom?

Wildspark is exciting, tense, thought-provoking and original. There are red herrings and unexpected twists. It’s fast-paced and gripping. I really enjoyed it. The story ends poised for a sequel and I can’t wait to see what Prue and her friends will get up to next!

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 8+

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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