BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
Book Title: Brightstorm
Author: Vashti Hardy
Publication Date: March 2018
Suitable For: Years 3-6
I was eagerly awaiting the publication of Vashti Hardy’s Brightstorm after hearing so many great things about this debut on Twitter and it was certainly worth the wait! Brightstorm is a cracking adventure story with flying ships, intrepid explorers, identity quests, sapient animals and the most wonderful cast of characters.
Twins Maudie and Arthur are distraught when they hear that their father, explorer Ernest Brightstorm, has died on his expedition to reach South Polaris. Even worse, he was accused of breaking the Explorer’s Code by stealing fuel from a competing voyage. This means that not only did he fail to receive the prize fund but that his assets, including the Brightstorm house, are repossessed and the twins are taken into a new life in ‘care’ in the Slumps of Lontown.
The twins quickly begin to realise that something about their father’s apparent misfortune sounds unlikely and they seek a way to go to South Polaris to find the truth, clear the family name and finish their father’s quest to claim victory in the race to South Polaris. After joining the crew of the innovative explorer Harriet Culpepper, the twins embark on an skyship adventure during which they encounter increasingly perilous landscapes, friendly kings of foreign worlds, intelligent animals (including the wonderful thought-wolves who communicate with the twins not through words or actions but through thoughts and feelings) and a villainous antagonist on a competing ship who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
The world of Brightstorm is convincingly built and well enough explained that you never need to question its norms but there is still enough scope to wonder at its past, present and future. The history of the different ages of exploration explains why skyships are, for most, the chosen method of exploration and the references to maps and snippets from information books belonging to the ship’s library give the realm plenty of extra depth. Amid all the celebrations of engineering and exploration, which are highly prized in the Brightstorm world, there is also the sobering existence of heartbreak, grief, poverty and institutionalised snobbery. As for the future of this world, there is a very recognisable tension between the desire to explore and conquer and an underlying concern for environmental issues (exemplified by Harriet Culpepper discovering a way to power her ship by water instead of conventional fuels).
On the surface, Brightstorm contains everything that a jolly good adventure story should. However, it does not take long for the reader to realise that what is special about this story is the way in which it is filled with brilliant little gems that twist conventions without drawing attention to themselves for the sake of it. I liked, for example, how one of the main characters has a disability (Arthur was born with only one arm) but that his disability is secondary to the traits that define his character. Equally pleasing was the way in which Maudie, who has an
interest and talent for engineering, alongside with the female skyship captains allow girls to excel in STEM in a way that is normalised and without it being the main focus of the book.
What was also surprising was the climax of the adventure. When the twins reach their destination, the ‘victory’ they claim is not necessarily the one they were expecting (I can’t say too much more without giving spoilers!). At this point it becomes clear that that, for Maudie and Arthur, the ‘expedition’ is just as much about exploring their own identities as it is about reaching the edges of the map. The wild and varied landscapes of ‘The Great Wide’ mirror the unexplored layers of self on their own personal voyages of discovery, and as they reach the unchartered territories of the Third Continent the twins begin to realise, each in their own way, that the choices they make are more important than bloodlines in defining who they really are. I left the twins at the end of the story feeling that the world is their oyster and very much hoping that there will be more to explore in future stories as Arthur and Maudie each find their place in the world.
Stories about explorers and expeditions are always popular in primary classrooms and this one, with its fresh take on the adventure quest and its convincing world-building, is sure to fire up imaginations and become a firm favourite with budding adventurers across KS2.
Find ‘Brightstorm’ on Amazon or from any good bookshop or library.
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March 2018 Books of the Month