Wildspark was written by Vashti Hardy and first published in 2019. It is a middle grade fantasy story which focuses on a young girl’s mission to save her deceased brother’s spirit. The novel forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

When Francis died, Prue Haywood thought that she would never be happy again. However, this was before she learned about the Personifates. A secretive guild in Medlock have discovered the secret to capturing the spirits of the dead and binding them to animal machines, giving them a second chance at life. When a member of that guild comes to her farm seeking Francis as his apprentice, Prue is quick to take advantage. Taking on her brother’s identity, she assumes her place as a new student at the guild.

However, bringing back Francis will not be easy. Competition at the Factorium is fierce and only the best will eventually become craftsmen. The process of becoming a Personifate also wipes the second-lifer’s memory, so Prue will have to find a way to get the ghost machines to recall their past lives if she wants her brother to be the way he was.

Yet saving Francis may not be Prue’s most pressing problem. On the night of the Blood Moon, the guild plans to animate a hundred Personifates to show off their technology. However, there are people who do not wish for this to happen. When a Personifate is ripped apart in the woods, Prue and her friends realise that something dangerous is stalking the night. What she does not realise is that this creature has the power to completely change the status quo…

To put it simply, Wildspark is a breath-taking work of imaginative fiction. The story is strongly implied to be set in a far-future England. The city of Medlock has an oddly anachronistic feel, with a somewhat Victorian setting embellished with all manner of mechanical marvels. The result was a novel that made me think of a steampunk version of His Dark Materials. It is a world where humans live and work side-by-side with their Personifate allies – lifelike robotic animals who are animated by the souls of dead humans.

While this idea alone is refreshingly original, I was pleased to discover that it was just the tip of the iceberg. The city of Medlock has an incredible amount of depth for a middle grade novel. In it, Hardy has created a completely believable world. Not only do we get to see the inner workings of the Factorium and the creation process for the Personifates in details, but we also explore the complex ethics of the world.

The Personifates raise some interesting issues about bodily autonomy and sentience. In Medlock, they are brought back with no memories and the living determine what their role in society should be – with no option for the Personifate to contest this. Either they are given a job suited to their body type, or assigned the role of “companion” to a human. Due to this two opposing political groups have emerged – one that views Personifates as unnatural and is completely against their creation, and one that thinks that Personifates should have control of their lives and given equal rights. The reader is encouraged to look at both sides of this argument, as neither is intrinsically wrong, as well as see the horrifying extremes that each group will take this to.

Beyond this incredible setting, the plot of Wildspark is also a work of art. Hardy is very quick to set the scene, with Prue meeting her mentor – Craftsman Primrose – and setting out for Medlock within a few gripping chapters. Following this, the novel’s pace never dips. Even as Prue is learning more about how the Factorium works, a darker plotline brews in the background. With the looming Blood Moon and promise that a hundred Personifates will be granted life in one night, and this increased sightings of a murderous “stag man” in the woods, it is not long before the threads start to draw together. As Prue finally learns what is at stake, she and her friends realise that the future of the Personifates – and all life in Medlock – lies with them.

The climax of Wildspark was completely gripping, with Prue and friends, Edwin and Agapantha, forced to each use their individual skills to save the day. While the finale does tie up a lot of loose ends, allowing the story to largely stand-alone, it still does leave a lot of scope for the characters to have future adventures. I really do hope that there will be a sequel to reveal more of Edwin’s past if nothing else.

In terms of characterisation, Wildspark was equally strong. Prue is a fantastic heroine, embodying everything that I look for in a protagonist. While her desire to resurrect Francis is perhaps a little misguided, her motivations are pure and it is impossible to dislike her. Prue grows from strength to strength throughout the story, never managing to be the perfect student but proving that even a “farm girl” can have what it takes to succeed in the city. Her bravery, loyalty and friendship are all wonderful traits, and you truly feel her struggle to keep her secret to ensure that her friends will not be hurt if she is found out.

The supporting cast of the novel also shines. While it would have been nice to have learned more about who Edwin was before his second life, he was still a well-rounded character and you really did feel his doubts and conflicted feelings towards his existence. Agapantha also provides a brilliant third member of the trio, showing great intelligence and gentle understanding, despite being a bit of a shrinking violet. Yet it’s probably Cora that received the most growth. Despite being a particularly annoying (and sometimes downright insufferable) character, you really start to feel sorry for her towards the end of the story as Prue learns the truth behind her attitude and the unseen pressures that have been placed upon her.

Anyhow, apologies for the shortness of this review but I am being very careful to avoid spoilers. Wildspark is a rare and special novel – one of the ones that has an original concept, nicely paced plot and wonderfully strong characters. It is a compelling read and one that I would recommend to all readers – middle grade or adult. This imaginative story with a wonderfully strong female protagonist is certainly a must read. I can’t wait to get my hands on more of Hardy’s work in the future.

Wildspark can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. BookCraic
    Jul 07, 2019 @ 22:57:03

    A fab review! I adored Wildspark and totally agree that Prue is a fantastic female lead!


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