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Thanks to NetGalley and Norton Young Readers for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: March 17th, 2020

336 Pages

Synopsis: Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm receive devastating news: their famous explorer father has died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris. To make matters worse, the Lontown Geographical Society finds Ernest Brightstorm guilty of sabotaging the expedition of his competitor, Eudora Vane. But a mysterious clue leads the twins to question the story they’ve been told—and to uncover the truth, they must undertake the journey of a lifetime.

Joining the ragtag crew of a homemade sky-ship captained by the intrepid Harriet Culpepper, Arthur and Maudie race to South Polaris to salvage their family’s reputation and find out what really happened on their father’s doomed expedition.

Brightstorm is a propulsive and compelling fantasy adventure set among the vibrant landscapes and dynamic characters of Vashti Hardy’s vividly imagined world.

First, how gorgeous is that cover? Doesn’t it immediately make you want to go grab a copy? Well, I’m happy to say that the story lives up to that wonderful cover. Brightstorm is one of the best middle grade reads I’ve had the pleasure of reading in quite a while, and I’m thrilled to feature it as my first review of 2020!

This story is not only a fascinating fusion of fantasy, science fiction, steampunk and historical fiction, it also draws inspiration from the real life story of the Scott Expedition to the South Pole. It’s a thrilling adventure which captivated me from the very first page and had me racing to the finish in just a little over three hours. The characters, from Maudie and Arthur, Captain Harriet Culpepper, and ship’s cook and comic relief, Felicity Wiggety, to the villainous, pink-loving, Eudora Vane, are brilliantly written. Maudie with her scientific genius is a wonderful female role model for STEM, and Captain Culpepper is as well. Arthur, who was born without one of his arms, has never let that stop him from accomplishing what he wants, although his impulsiveness can get himself and his loved ones into trouble. The satient animals like the Brightstorm’s faithful winged companion, Parthena, and the thought wolves are wonderful creations and add even more to an already exciting tale. The ending perfectly sets things up for the next book, Darkwhispers, and that brings me to my good news/bad news. The good news is that the sequel is coming out in February. The bad news is that if you want a print copy it looks like it’s initially going to be released in the UK, but not the US. Thank goodness for Book Depository which offers free shipping worldwide! If you have a Kindle though it’s already available for preorder on Amazon.

So, just to be clear, I haven’t had this high level of excitement after reading a children’s book since I first read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by Rowling, and Northern Lights, by Philip Pullman. If I wasn’t retired I’d be ordering multiple copies for my library in order to push them into the hands of my young patrons, and organizing book discussion groups! Brightstorm has been receiving accolades in the UK since it was released in 2018, and in my opinion they’re entirely well-deserved. This is a book that will win both juvenile and adult fans. Vashti Hardy is a storyteller extraordinaire who weaves magic with her words and illustrations. If you enjoy authors like Rowling, Pullman, and Lemony Snicket, you need to read this. And if you’re not familiar with these authors but you like the sound of a fantastic rollicking adventure featuring intrepid orphans and plenty of villainy afoot, I urge you to try this!