Brightstorm is such a brilliant adventure story and is one of the best books I read in 2018. I have chosen to re-read it again as I felt I needed to review it and share how brilliant it is. Vashti Hardy’s writing grips you from the start and refuses to let you go. Brightstorm is packed full of adventure, with thrills and spills aplenty. It is an original adventure narrative that will hook children in and I challenge even the most reluctant of readers to not want to adventure with Arthur and Maudie.
At a time where much of The Great Wide is yet to be explored a battle wages amongst intrepid explorers to be the first to reach South Polaris. Ernest Brightstorm does not have true explorer blood but has a passion for exploring. In the latest race to reach South Polaris, Ernest and his sky-ship the Violetta have failed to return and news arrives back in Lontown that the ship and its crew have perished. The death of Ernest leaves his two children, Arthur and Maudie, orphaned and homeless as an unscrupulous insurance worker informs them that due to their father breaking clause one hundred and fifty two of the Explorer Code all of the Brightstorm possessions are to be repossessed.
Finding themselves lost and sold for a handful of sovereigns to a deplorable couple, Arthur and Maudie find themselves in a hopeless situation until a message arrives that leads them to question what they have been told about their father. When young explorer Harriet Culpepper, a descendant from a line of explorers, announces her own expedition towards South Polaris the twins sense an opportunity to discover the truth about their father and return honour to the Brightstorm name. And so begins the adventure of a lifetime.
Brightstorm is the award-winning debut novel from Vashti Hardy and it is superb. Hardy worked as a primary school teacher for several years and her knowledge and understanding of young people comes across in her writing - she knows what it takes to get children engrossed in a book.
Hardy has created an original land featuring sky-ships, thought-wolves (my new favourite creature), unique continents and a great cast of characters with a couple of notable villains. I love that Arthur and Maudie are twins. Twins as central characters in a narrative is rare and the twin dynamic works wonderfully in the story. They have that special twin connection that only twins can relate to and through their actions and interactions we see how they truly understand each other, the belief that together they can do anything. The descriptions of the sky-ship make you feel like you are flying with Harriet and her crew, whether you be staring out from aboard the deck or looking out whilst perched on a wing. I really enjoyed the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) aspects that come across in the workings of and maintenance of the sky ship. And I loved that Hardy had chosen to create a sky-ship that was environmentally friendly.
The book has many positive messages, and through the characters Hardy makes the reader feel like they can do anything. Two of my favourite phrases were, “There’s always a way,” and, “Don’t call it a dream, call it a plan.” Many of the characters are great examples of role models for children, they have drive, resilience, are courageous and solve problems. They teach children to not focus on what they can not do but to focus on what they can.
Brightstorm features two strong female characters, Harriet Culpepper and Maudie, and gives a very positive message to young girls that they can do anything, even jobs which are stereotypically for boys. Harriet Culpepper is a strong leader who loves inventing things and can problem solve. Through Harriet’s character the reader is taught that having a fancy title isn’t important, whilst she is officially Captain Harriet Culpepper, she understands the value of others and promotes equality and that everyone has skills that will be needed at different times. Harriet Culpepper gives the reader one of the most valuable lessons in life when she reminds her crew members that whilst reaching the goal is important they must not forget to enjoy the journey. It feels like she is speaking directly to the reader and demanding that we enjoy seeing and experiencing new things on the way to our end destination. Maudie’s twin brother Arthur is a great character too. He has a disability but does not let that stand in the way of anything. He is portrayed as a vulnerable character who is worried about not fitting in and is really unsure of his purpose.
The race to reach South Polaris explores the different reasons for wanting to achieve. Children are often extrinsically motivated, and the same is true for adults. In Brightstorm, Eudora Vane is extrinsically motivated she seeks fame and fortune. Through Eduora’s actions we witness the extraordinary lengths people will go to when they become blinded by the rewards and riches on offer. Harriet Culpepper, Arthur and Maudie show us an alternative motivation, a motivation that is borne out of the need for the truth and to be able to “see if I can.”
The twist towards the end completely took me by surprise and leaves Harriet, Maudie and Arthur nicely poised for another adventure which comes in the form of Dark Whispers. Such is the excitement of the adventure and the books easy readability do not be surprised to find readers staying up well past bedtime.
Perfect for readers of 9+.