Oh yes! Vashti Hardy has done it again! Crowfall is a thrilling, irresistible corker of an adventure that utterly absorbed me from start to finish. I’m so glad I settled down to read this on a Sunday afternoon as it is most definitely a compelling page-turner that I devoured in one sitting.
Orin Crowfall lives in the poorest area of the island of Ironhold with his parents, Grandfather, and his fixie robot friend, Cody. Everyone has a role within this ordered, industrialised society and, whilst not at school, Orin works at the Engineerium, serving the island’s Custodian, Commander Forge. She is the only one who can communicate with the huge, sentient tree which is vital for the island’s survival: the Eard.
Orin has an affinity for nature and finds a way to visit the Eard unbeknownst to Forge. During one of his visits, he makes a shocking discovery: Forge is hurting the Eard by taking its life source. Determined to find out why, Orin eavesdrops on a meeting between Forge and her appointed Core Engineers and what he discovers infuriates him. Those who are meant to protect the islanders have instead betrayed them, intending to abandon them and seek a new home whilst Ironfold collapses …
And so begins an action-packed, perilous and heart-pounding adventure as Orin must flee his home, with his best friend Cody, in order to discover a way to save his family. He finds himself in a race against time as he crosses the sea, chased by powerful enemies, storms and a terrible sea monster. Just when all hope seems to be lost, they find themselves shipwrecked on the island of Natura where both danger and friendship await … will Orin be able to find the self-belief and strength to save his family and the islanders of Ironhold from destruction?
The world-building is superb, juxtaposing the two islands of Ironhold and Natura brilliantly. Ironhold is an island of technology, invention and industry where nature has been denigrated for the sake of progress. Factories, towers and technology dominate the organised landscape of Ironhold whilst its heart, the Eard, is imprisoned within the Engineerium. In contrast, Natura is an island abundant with nature – wild and mesmerising – whose Eard takes a very active part in the lives of the islanders. Neither island is in balance; I found the exploration of the different motivations, wielding of power and systems of control by the rulers on each island fascinating.
Orin is courageous and determined, but also fearful and doubtful of his own abilities, making him such a likeable character. Orin has a deep appreciation of nature and is naturally curious. Even when he knows there is danger, he is prepared to take risks to save the family he loves dearly. Orin is stronger than he believes and shows great fortitude when standing up to those in power, and fighting for what he believes is right. He has a wonderful friend in Cody who, unlike other fixies, can speak and behave more like humans. Their friendship is just gorgeous: supportive, loyal, protective and honest. I also really liked Ferelith who Orin meets on Natura. She is a daring, courageous young girl with a heart for adventure and, when she finds one when Orin and Cody wash up on her shore, she seizes it wholeheartedly.
As always with Vashti’s writing, there is so much to explore in the story’s themes from the need to find balance between ecology and technology within society to the exploration of the motivations underpinning power and control. What are others prepared to do in order to survive, and at what cost to the environment and people around them?
I am very eager to use this fantastic story as a read-aloud with a class. I can just hear the groans and pleas to keep reading – thanks to the captivating story-telling and the cliff-hanger chapter endings – as I shut the book at the end of a chapter. Of course, I might just be persuaded to open it again soon after and read on …
Crowfall is an exceptional story that I cannot recommend highly enough. I have no doubt that young readers of 9+ will be completely entranced by this gripping tale as they venture into a world of excitement, discoveries and new friends.
Thank you to Harriet Dunlea and Scholastic for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.