Genre: Fantasy Age Range: MG
It’s no secret that I love Vashti Hardy’s books and the work of Barrington Stoke, a UK publisher of books for dyslexic and reluctant readers. Naturally, put the two together and you have something wonderful – a portal mystery series!
*SPOILER ALERT: contains SPOILERS for the first two books in the series*
THE GRIFFIN GATE
Star Rating: 4 stars Series: book 1
In THE GRIFFIN GATE (Goodreads here), the reader is introduced to a world where a magical map can be used to contact the wardens to report a crime. Enter Grace Griffin, the youngest member of the family who’s desperate to be a warden. So when an emergency is reported and there’s no one else to take it, she answers the call…
The book is a gorgeously cute mystery that’s expertly written in a very short word count. As such, the mystery and ensuing adventure revolves around a few key elements and objects. I particularly liked the way the telescopes were used. It ends up being both satisfying and a lesson in how to write clues and suspects into what is probably no more than 10k words. Not to mention getting all the world building in to make the world feel rich!
As with many of Vashti Hardy’s books, the world is a mix of fantasy (a map that can portal you to phone boxes) and sci-fi(electricity, very futuristic looking police officers.) On the overall balance, I’d call this fantasy due to the portal map being the central premise of the book (and it felt described in a more fantasy way than sci-fi.)
There are illustrations too, drawn by Natalie Smillie. There are 14 full/half-page intricate images, rather than small drawings of single objects. Given how short the book is, having illustrations is a particularly clever way of helping to set the scene, working hand in hand with the writing to bring the story to life. Plus, when there’s an illustration, you know that it’s a major moment and so time to pay even closer attention!
THE PUFFIN PORTAL
Star Rating: 4 stars Series: book 2
In THE PUFFIN PORTAL (Goodreads here), Grace is now a fully qualified warden and is investigating a spate of thefts across the world of Moreland. Except they’re particularly baffling thefts as it’s only small, almost valueless items being taken, and it seems like a bird is responsible!
As the world and premise has already been established by THE GRIFFIN GATE, THE PUFFIN PORTAL can dive right in to the mystery without having to spend so much time setting up the world. There’s also more sleuthing in this book as Grace investigates the thefts and then a strange island with an abandoned castle (!!! As someone who grew up on Enid Blyton, I love a good crumbling castle full of mystery!)
The book also feels more intricate, with more components working together to create the mystery. It feels a bit like Vashti Hardy was more confident with the format when writing this book so was able to spin more clues and more red-herrings into the book. (A pretty impressive feat for the size of it!)
We also have the introduction of a new character who looks like he’s going to be a major player in the coming books! Grace’s family are here as background characters again, but the mystery centres around new character Tom. I like series that expand with new entries, and new characters are a great way of doing that. Plus spending more time with characters allows you to get to know them better, and the majority of this book is spent with only grace, Watson (the robotic crown who helps the Griffins), and Tom.
There is one more book already out in the series, THE RAVEN RIDDLE, and at least one more to come, THE WEATHER WELL. Time to dive into that third book and eagerly await book 4!
Read my reviews of other books by Vashti Hardy:
- WILDSPARK (#1)