There’s something very wonderful, resonating with the stories in our heart & literary canon but refreshingly new about this world & whole concept in Wildspark.
From the writer of the steampunk explorer adventure Brightstorm comes a different but equal celebration of the strength of heart and mind.
This vividness and freshness within a comfortable framework has provoked me to consider that I may like this book as the beginning of a hero’s journey more than I do Harry Potter- and that is pretty huge.
Prudence grew up idolising her engineering big brother Francis on the isolated farm belonging to their parents and then he died.
When a man comes to call requesting Francis’ expertise to become an apprentice to the Imperial Personifate Guild Of Medlock a cutting edge but increasingly controversial organisation that captures the souls (but not the memories) of dead people and harnesses them to machines for a ‘second’ life.
Prudence decides to impersonate Francis and so discover a way to return him to the family suffering plenty of imposter syndrome along the way!
The only problem is restoring memories is greatly tricky and the machines remembering who they were may make society as she knows it fall apart.
But if there was some way to bring Francis back, for all of them, shouldn’t Prue grab it with both hands? Shouldn’t she at least try to lift the cloud of gloom that had seeped into every inch of the farm?
Wildspark has all the warmth and familiarity of ‘fish out of water in the first year’ books such as The Worst Witch, Harry Potter & The Philosophers stone and a bit of Wundersmith where our young protagonist is coming to terms with a new unfamiliar context and setting and fast having to adapt to new ideas, values and behaviours that come naturally to those around them.
Hardy tackles the classic concept of Deus ex machina (God in the Machine, to bring vivid and conscious life to a machine) with her twist of the machines having animal forms bringing to the forefront the ethical questions of Frankenstein (does trapping souls equate with grave robbing bodies?) with the whimsy of a Zootropolis-esque strata of society.
Vashti Hardy has taken modern Sci-Fi ethical and survivalist issues of artificial intelligence and sentient technology and stripped it back to the core issue of the right to give life or ‘playing god’ but within the safety and accessibility of animal bodies and Middle grade narrative.
…a toad jumped from a small outlet pipe in front of her.
‘Mind out lady!’ The toad personifate said, glaring up at her and folding his arms glaringly.
The philosophical discussion of Deus Ex Machina has already brought much fruit for picking, jamming, pickling and more in SFF and Wildspark runs a comfortable yet fresh and exciting route with it that may lead readers to further literature.
There is grit and darkness where echoes of Frankenstein meets Bunzl’s Cogheart and a dash of the anthropomorphic animal society of Disney films sweetens the context; then we add the neophyte unaware of their own skills travelling to a specialised boarding school crossed with Pratchett’s Ankh Morpork Guilds creating a gorgeous mixture of the familiar with new ideas.
Within Wildspark there are flavours and nuances of stories and series we know and love but the concepts of the technology and the stories within are fresh and exciting and I didn’t see some twists coming- some clever red herrings and I was bamboozled!
Prue could feel there was something about this whole place, a prickle in the air, like the expectation of lightning- everything was alert. Prue had so many questions bursting inside of her, she couldn’t wait to get started.
Wildspark has a warmth of a Disney production and the quirky edge of a Burton film with the personifates, animals talking but not necessarily in that ‘oh yes beautiful Snow White may we scrub your dishes for you?’ Sparkly kind of way, they are immersed in the society but with the fact they can be purchased or sent to work schemes there underlying questions of ethics regarding freedom and servitude.
This is entire concept is one I want to see on the big screen. I can see it working extremely well in cinema, well the cinematographer and director that create the visual spectacular in my head when I read seem to think so- Vashti Hardy’s writing overall is very cinematic in that it is tightly paced and carefully prudent with her word choices. The succinct use of vocabulary thus allows the actions and other senses speak, ring and colour the perception perhaps even more so than traditional descriptive detail. That sensory immersion is how the imagination takes us creating Wildspark’s world from how footsteps would sound and feel walking upon the described half-stone half-metal cobbles.
I adored this novel, a second outing with Vashti Hardy and it has confirmed in me that I adore her writing and I look forward to whatever Vashti decides to write next!
Wildspark by Vashti Hardy is published by Scholastic and available to buy online and from bookstores.