I’m a huge fan of Vashti Hardy, her writing has grown and deepened with every publication yet she always stays true to her blend of steampunk fantasy where the tales unravel sharp insight into modern society, leadership, our connection with other communities and nature, what it means to be brave and to be human.
Crowfall is a masterpiece, a cultured reader may see the paths of inspiration that have wound and crossed and converged to emerge in Orin’s story, and each influence brings a unique flavour and joy to the tale yet ultimately Crowfall feels new and exciting, both for what concepts have dotted the star map and where Vashti’s imagination and style has evolved into a roar of genius and brought life to this journey.
On the island of Ironhold, everyone knows their place. The storm battered and hunger bruised island feels like its falling to the raging sea, with only the Core, the most skilled and talented people on the island led by Commander Forge the one individual who can communicate with the mysterious being The Eard as hope for the future.
But when Orin Crowfall, grandson of a disgraced Engineer, uncovers a terrible secret, he is unfortunately discovered and has no choice but to flee into the ocean with his fixie friend Cody where he is shipwrecked on the distant and VERY different island of Natura.
He has 10 days to get back, save his family, save Ironhold, save the Eard; but how on Earth will he do it, and what exactly is he trying to save anyway?
In order for us to persist, we must… expand our horizons.
Ecofabulism through the lens of steampunkery has been simmering under Vashti’s writing rising in crescendo with each publication, until the triumphant chorus thundering forth in Crowfall, but she has cleverly eased the reader towards it, slipping in moments of pause across her writing about conservationism, the impact of colonialism, what will cost us our souls for ‘progress’, ease and efficiency and the realities of plundering of nations different to our own for natural resources at the cost of the intelligence and synergistic relationships with nature they may offer.
Through her writing readers are consistently challenged and taken on a journey of the self, of the morals and asked to question where we stand and I as a mother and human being am grateful for Vashti and other authors like her helping to be the force for change, to empower the next generation to not lie down but to be the best they can be.
Orin felt as if he had fallen into a dream, composed of curves, twists, and earthy tones rather than the straight lines and metallic hues of Ironhold
And they are also fantastic adventures for those who aren’t quite ready to process that yet, but the seeds for positive change are planted within.
Orin’s journey across the waters to be shipwrecked on a strange island with very different cultures will certainly remind people of Gulliver’s travels, but there is further inspiration from more modern fantasy especially with the concept of the Eard.
The Eard reminds me a bit of Pratchett’s Great a’tuin crossed with a Torterra from Pokémon and made bigger, like island big, or indeed the creatures from The Creature Keeper by Damaris Young creating the concept of a synergistic interconnected being that can bring forth any form of flora it wants to, or is able to depending on how it is treated by humans.
This metaphor both speaks to the ethics of keeping wild creatures but more effectively an our relationship with nature itself though the anthropomorphism of nature by attributing emotions and most of all sensory feelings of pain and fear to the Eard. This is such a wonderful and thought provoking point, would we still be willing to shatter Earth’s bones, drill for her life blood and scar her skin if she was sentient and communicated with humans.
You have to believe me. There’s no time left.
Crowfall embodies the best of Dystopian falling of civilisation books but within the energy, and most of all hope, of Middle grade.
Hardy gently but clearly provokes the reader to reflect on the long term impact of social styles and how synergy is key rather than powerless dependency on one source for food, power or even wisdom and very much challenging of the enforcement of an unfair wage-based ‘meritocracy’ that is riddled with nepotism and the promotion of self-preservation over cooperation perpetuating the struggle of the masses.
Both Orin and Ferelith have an awakening to how the systems they grew up within have major imperfections, Ironhold greatly so with its divorce from and greedy isolation of surviving nature, and Natura showing the dangers of overdependency on a ‘higher being’ and a lack of interaction and responsibility for your own survival. Yet both are equally protective of their systems, reflecting the real world insecurity at the suggestion our way of life may be not the best way to be until the truth washes the rosy tint from our eyes.
He wondered how things might be on Ironhold if they took down the conservatory that contained the Eard and gave it a chance to be free.
On a side point is the Vashti Hardy book that has the most Disney feels for me, in a good way because I feel Disney has been making positive shifts over the last decade or so to elevate their storytelling and its a great way for booksellers to link with readers who do not know what to choose next-
- Moana- the interconnectedness of society and their environment on Natura with everyone and thing having a place and value but equally the urge to roam and discover more as Ferelith wishes to see how far she will go but is held back too by the rules of the land.
- Disney ‘Hercules’ or ‘Wreck it Ralph’ feel- that the ordinary hero who writes himself off as incapable because of his origins can find that he belongs and is worthy and is willing to sacrifice it all for the greater good and a future for everyone.
- And the relationship between Cody and Orin has a few sparkles of Big Hero 6, and we were very grateful for that in one part of the story!!!
Ironhold was out there. His family was out there. I’m here, he said silently into the wind, hoping with every atom that somehow it would magically carry the message back to them.
Whether you read for meaning or adventure, Hardy’s worlds stay with you, and invite further thought through the lens of a most exciting adventure.
Crowfall by Vashti Hardy is published by Scholastic.