A swashbuckling Victoriana expedition through the skies
Brightstorm, a debut novel by Vashti Hardy published by Scholastic in March 2018, is something of a Northern Lights crossed with sky-ships. I have always loved the notion of flying in a hot air balloon but, being afraid of heights, this book has given my imagination the freedom my body wouldn’t to join explorers Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm on their sky-ship expedition to reach the icy South Polaris to find their father, an explorer who has gone missing on a previous race and is accused of stealing fuel from a competitor explorer, Eudora Vane.
Bringing physical disability into middle grade adventures
One-armed Arthur is our hero, with his iron arm which has its limitations but also hidden benefits. I love this about Arthur; his difference creates unique challenges that he manages to not only overcome but use to his advantage and, to me, he stands out in middle grade fiction where physical disability is grossly under represented, particularly in adventure stories.
A world with lovely quirks and the thrill of discovery
Hardy’s Victoriana world is meshed so closely with ours but possesses lovely quirks, including talking animals, and it leaves you utterly taken with this world of the three continents where, unlike with our own Earth, there is still the thrill of discovering new lands.
Packed with powerful women and a deliciously evil Eudora Vane
Although this is Arthur’s journey, the story is packed with powerful women. His twin sister, Maudie, is a bright capable engineer and the winged sky-ship they join is owned by Captain Harriet Culpepper who is a swashbuckling, fearless heroine and helps the twins in their quest to clear their father’s name. My personal favourite is Felicity, the ship’s cook whose tingling feet have a mind of their own and she always has tea on tap, even on the frozen plains of the third continent!
But it is the glamorous yet deadly Eudora Vane, a Cruella de Vil character, who our hero finds himself up against that gives this book a real menace. She will do anything to be the first to reach South Polaris and her deliciously evil desires like wearing a particular pink at the expense of crushed living beetles, who secrete the right shade, drives you on to pray that Arthur and Maudie find their father alive… I shall say no more other than read Brightstorm to find out!