Spylark “A boy. A drone. And the danger below.”
As Tom and his homemade drone seek to overthrow a terrorist plot, he becomes caught up in the international black market, and the Lake District – usually presented in all its natural beauty – turns a sinister place in this incredibly exciting thriller from Danny Rurlander.
A very nasty accident has left Tom disabled, both physically and emotionally – he can’t walk easily and is left with a horrendous phobia of enclosed spaces. He also has an extraordinary passion for his drones and robots, but he has locked himself into this world, to hide away, and has become bitter and distant. By the end of the story, though, he will have had to face his fears and draw on every ounce of physical strength too. His friendships with Maggie and Joel, two young people whose family have come to stay for a relaxing holiday, and with the older Jim Rothwell, fortunately, encourage him and give him the necessary strength to see who he truly is.
I’ll lay my cards on the table straight away and say that I don’t think I’ve read a more original children’s book this year. Books which focus on technology can date (badly) very quickly, but Spylark plays the theme extremely well, adapting modern cool-tech into a crucial part of the storytelling, never letting it become a mere selling-point or hook. First off, the drone becomes a character in itself, a concept in which the reader immediately invests. Furthermore, right from the start, the first chapter sets out the incredibly exciting and original twist in viewpoint: the drone can snap us between different scenes and plots in the blink of an eye. Characters can view each other’s actions without them knowing, all from, say, the safety of a garden shed.
Spylark, for all its robotic phantasmagoria, should be read in ten, twenty, fifty years, even if – and it’s very likely – that the technology presented here in arcane and obsessively fascinating detail, has long since become obsolete. It fits beautifully into that evergreen forest of children’s adventure stories which present the kids on their own, knowing better than the grown-ups, pitting themselves against danger, and learning from the experience. Spylark forges a new path through that already well-trodden domain, and it succeeds to find new and exciting life.
Barry Cunningham in his opening message from Chicken House, likens Spylark to “Swallows and Amazons brought bang up to date”, and yes, there is certainly that feeling, but Spylark is very much its own beast. Reading this book is a very different and thrilling experience – now bring on the sequels, Mr Rurlander!
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