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MCW Books

Spark Hunter

By May 10, 2024May 22nd, 2024No Comments

Winner of the NZSA Best First Book Award 2022 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and the Storylines Notable Book Award 2022. Shortlisted for the Esther Glen Junior Fiction prize.

Over a million hectares of wild bush-clad land and one young hunter …

Nissa Marshall knows that something is hiding deep in the forests of Fiordland National Park – she’s seen their lights in the trees. But what are they, and why does no one else seem to notice them?

When Nissa abandons her school camp to track down the mysterious lights, she finds herself lost in a dangerous wonderland. But she’s not the only one in danger – the bush and the creatures are under threat too – and she wants to help. What can a school kid do where adults have failed, and can she find her way back? In Fiordland, the lost usually stay lost.

Spark Hunter is an epic Kiwi adventure-fantasy – a story of survival in one of the world’s last great wildernesses.

‘The writing is exceptional, the story’s a ripper, there’s a wise, green soul to it – honestly, we’re reminded of Jack Lasenby’ writes Catherine Woulfe in The Spinoff.

More reviews of Spark Hunter can be found here.

The book launch for Spark Hunter on Tuesday 19 October 2021 was held online because of Covid lockdowns. This is the speech given by Paula Morris on the night:


These aren’t easy times for NZ writers and publishers, especially debut authors like Sonya launching her very first book during lockdown. In Auckland we’re not even allowed to cross the threshold of Time Out Books, and that’s not because I’ve been banned—not yet, anyway.

This week has seemed particularly difficult, for reasons related to our literary sector as a whole, and for Sonya personally, with her injured back, and her hair that’s growing as wild as uncharted parts of Fiordland. But I’m delighted to celebrate tonight a sparkling new book by such an imaginative and accomplished writer.

Some of us here read the early drafts of Spark Hunter, then known as The Forever Forest or various other temporary titles, during the 2017 MCW year at the University of Auckland. A number of books have appeared from the writers that year already: Rosetta AllanRose CarlyleAmy McDaidPip McKayHeidi North, and Michael Wilson. Soon more names will join that list of talented writers.

It was a privilege for us all to read Sonya’s novel as it developed, and to learn more about Fiordland than we ever expected to know. For example, I now know that it’s a place where we can get eaten alive by sandflies. Sonya’s deep love of the deep South, her intellectual and imaginative curiosity, and her instinctive sense of a good story were all present from the start. She has worked hard on this book, and on her craft, and it’s been worth it. She’s also been well-supported by her whanau, by her agent Nadine Rubin, her publisher Mary McCallum, and her editor Madison Hamill. Kia ora to all you mavens who have helped bring this marvellous book into shops, libraries and homes.

I finished reading Spark Hunter at lunchtime today, so I and can tell you: it’s a page-turner, funny and gripping and exciting. Sonya is a writer who is equally adept at realism and fantasy, and the world she’s created, of sparks and their natural realm, is superbly realised. This is a place of enchantment and mystery, of history and legend. It’s an adventure story in the old-fashioned sense, where a 12-year-old girl gets to be smart and do things, with life-and-death consequences.

It’s also fresh and contemporary, from school power games to social media moments. I love reading a book where I’m laughing out loud one moment and feeling awed or terrified the next. I defy any of you to read pages 89 and 90, with a showdown on the beach set in 1785, and not feel exhilarated and profoundly moved. This is a book I really, really wish had been around when I was 12. I would have absolutely loved it.

Some of you also know Sonya as the brains—and heart—behind the Kiwi Christmas Books campaign, where we’re asked to buy a brand new book for children by a NZ writer from a NZ book shop, and donate it. These books go to City Missions, women’s refuges and other charities around the country, and put into the hands of NZ kids at Christmas. This means NZ writers, publishers and booksellers earn money, and our mokopuna get books to read. Last year Sonya expanded this from Auckland to more than nine cities around the country, even if some of us didn’t realise there were more than nine cities in NZ, and the result is thousands of books bought and given as gifts.

Jenna Todd noted earlier that many of us at this virtual launch have already bought Spark Hunter. So may I encourage you all to buy another copy and donate it to this campaign. You can do this simply by buying one from Time Out, as they’re one of the booksellers acting as a point of collection.

If we weren’t in level 3 here in Auckland, I would have bought Sonya some flowers to give to her in person. Instead I’m going to buy four copies of Spark Hunter and donate them to Sonya’s Kiwi Christmas Books campaign. Let’s all be generous with our writers and readers here in Aotearoa NZ. Let’s support each other, and the immense talent we nurture here.

Kia ora Sonya, and congratulations on writing such a marvellous book. Tom and I are so proud of you, and proud to be your friends. You’ve almost made me want to explore Fiordland, apart from the sandflies and the lack of WiFi.

Spark Hunter

by Sonya Wilson

The Cuba Press

ISBN: 9781991150806 

Published: August 2021

Format: Paperback, 280 pages

Sonya Wilson

Sonya Wilson is a broadcaster, writer and freelance journalist. She has a BA in Broadcasting Communications and a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. She is the author of Spark Hunter, an adventure-fantasy novel for middle-grade readers and is also the founder and executive director of the children’s book charity Kiwi Christmas Books.