A fantastical Victorian-esk world with colourful, real characters to enthrall you to the very end.
When I picked up Wildspark by Vashti Hardy, I expected not to enjoy it as much as her wonderful debut, Brightstorm. How wrong I was. Wildspark was even more enthralling to me, perhaps because I identified with main character, Prue, and her motivations. Anyone who has lost someone might have a moment where, if it were possible to bring them back from the dead, you would at any cost.
Prudence Haywood is a young girl who is devastated having lost her older brother, Francis, and the story opens at the Haywoods’ farm with a visit from Craftsman Primrose. He has come for Francis, who was a gifted inventor and only a year older than Prue. Craftsman Primrose wants to recruit him for an apprenticeship at the Imperial Personifate Guild of Medlock where people’s ghosts are brought back to life in machines called ‘personifates’. These machines come in animal form rather than human and the book focuses on the relationship between people and these ‘second lifers’.
Craftsman Primrose is turned away by Prue’s grief stricken mother but Prue, also a talented inventor herself, decides to take Francis’s place so that she can bring him back to life as a personifate. Prue runs away from home and finds Craftsman Primrose on his way back to Medlock and explains that she is Frances, a girl not a boy, and that her parents have agreed to let her join the Guild.
Once at the Guild, Prue meets a colourful group of apprentices who become her friends; Agapantha, a bright mathematician and Edwin, a creative stoat and the first personifate apprentice. Cora Duval also shares Prue and Agapantha’s dorm room and provides much conflict with her hatred of lower classes and personifates. They all have relatable insecurities and are very ‘real’ characters even though they inhabit a fantasy world.
As Prue secretly works on her designs to bring back memories to personifates, who have no recollection of their previous lives, her desire grows to find Francis’s Wildspark which is the frequency of life that must be harnessed in a qwortizite rock – the heart of a personifate. She risks the chance of the Guild discovering her true identity and her secret desire to bring back Francis because the Guild do not allow specific individuals to be brought back and her research could bring down the institution.
Vashti Hardy brings grown up themes, such as coping with loss and racism with the group ASL (Anti-Second Lifers) to a young audience with great sensitivity. In places, it brought me to tears and at others, I was frantically turning the pages with a BIG twist at the end I didn’t see coming! The fantastical Victorian-esk world of Medlock is utterly convincing and as a reader, you feel entirely immersed. The world feels as though there is much, much more to uncover and I hope Vashti explores it further…
Take a look at our interview with Vashti Hardy.