Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

27973757Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella Riosse dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped.

When her closest friend disappears into the island’s Forgotten Territories, she volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographer’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart.

But the world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.

This is a beautiful book. It is possibly the most beautiful novel I’ve ever seen. I want to find the designers, shake them firmly by the hand, and then steal their talent from them by the all-encompassing power of osmosis. (I am aware that I am not a plant and such things are not possible but a girl can dream.)

Just look. Look at these two pages.

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The entire book is printed in navy, with orange detailing and it really is something special. It also has a gate-folded cover with colourful maps on the inside. It’s is a beautiful piece of book production and I wish I produced it myself. Even if I had never intended to read it, I would have bought it just because it’s a beautiful object. (I always did intend to read it. I mean, just read the title, does that not seem like something I would love?)

I was a bit unsure of this book at first, it’s split into parts and the first section isn’t the most exciting thing I’ve ever read but I think if I were younger, I would have appreciated it a lot more. However, I am happy to report that once the action started, it was excellent. I felt nervous feelings in my stomach and everything, I definitely was not expecting that after the beginning. It definitely has echoes of The Firework Maker’s Daughter (which is one of my favourite things) so I very much appreciated that.

What I love most about this book though is the character development. There’s a certain character (Lupe) who begins as an entitled, brattish child and ends up as something entirely different, and it shattered my heart a little bit. The Girl of Ink and Stars doesn’t shy away from being brutal.

It went in directions I was not expecting and I found myself loving it. I loved the setting, I loved the characters, and I loved the mythology that bound the whole thing together. It’s a short read, but a good one and I am glad I stuck it out. It is poignant and lovely and a good way to wile away an evening.

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Children’s literature: Fairyland and the Enticement of Travelling to Another World

The capitalisation is for emphasis, I feel I should point that out before I begin.

Fairyland

I have recently finished reading Catherynne M. Valente’s current Fairyland books, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making  and its sequel The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and led the Revels there; I was sucked into them to the extent that, even though I had other books to read, between finishing the first one and the release of the second I could not read another book. I was so involved in Fairyland that I had to read the next one before I read anything else. And so I pre-ordered the sequel and squealed in excitement when it arrived.

I really enjoy these books.

Not many series that I have read recently have concrete endings to each of their titles so I was pleasantly surprised after reading the first and learning that it did, in fact, end. The same is true of the second. But that is not the point of this entry, neither is fawning over these books. Well, maybe it is a little bit.

It is in reading these books, and beginning the book I am reading currently, that I realised something about myself (and perhaps about children/young adults and publishing along with it). After my frolic through Fairyland, I picked up China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun and I am completely in love with that too. It was in my love of that and my ideas for my Major Project (which were also floating around at the time) when a thought struck: my favourite books, and even films, are mostly about unsuspecting men/women/children (but mostly children) being swept away and taken somewhere else, somewhere fantastical.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking Glass, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, StardustCoraline, C.S.Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan, L.Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart Trilogy, John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things. 

LabyrinthPan’s LabyrinthMirrorMaskSpirited AwayHowl’s Moving Castle, Ink, The 10th KingdomAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland (in all of its screen incarnations, though I’ve not yet seen them all, but particularly the National Ballet version, at the moment), the list could go on.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

My reading (and film-watching) life is immersed in tales of ordinary (or seemingly ordinary) people being taken to wondrous places. It’s an archetype which never fails to impress and inspire me. Why? It’s nice to imagine that things like that can happen to normal people, though, saying that all of the characters are in some way ‘chosen’, except perhaps Deeba in Un Lun Dun who ends up where she is out of loyalty to her friend (or possibly being too scared of going back home in the dark…). So maybe it’s nice to imagine that you could be chosen if being chosen and taken to some magical place was a thing which existed.

It seems to work for publishers too, there is so much that can be done with these stories that it’s hard to find fault in the release of a new one. The fact that it took me so long to realise my very obvious reading trend is credit to the ability of authors to make them unique (I am 2 months shy of 22 and have been reading for most of my life). With the sheer number of such stories, it’s clear that children like them too. What’s better than to imagine you’ve been pulled into an adventure by a wind in a dashing green jacket or that you’ve wished your brother be taken away by the Goblin King (even if you later realise that it wasn’t the best idea to do so)?

The Book of Lost Things

These are stories which don’t become boring and, while it’s a trend, they’re nothing like the paranormal boom of the last few years. These are slow things, steady things, pushing themselves forward until they’re in exactly the right place on the bookshelf for little (and not-so-little) hands to reach.

In the spirit of sharing (in which this spirit is selfish and one-sided, he has no left half, it’s very strange), if anyone has any favourite books, films or tv shows with similar themes, leave a comment! And with that, I flee to have my own adventure, which involves making my throat feel better by drinking orange squash. It’s not going to work but I’m going to enjoy it anyway.