“Utterly beautiful … deliciously tense”
I found myself utterly seduced by the beauty of this book – the silhouette on the cover, part girl, part island, the maps on the inner pages, the decorated pages. This is a book upon which an enormous amount of care has been lavished and one’s fingers itch to turn each page not only for the story.
And the story? Isabella is the daughter of a cartographer. She’s learning his craft, but whereas he in the past had travelled the world making maps, today all travel from the tiny corner of the isolated island they live on is forbidden. In fact, everything is restricted and society is very much divided into haves and have-nots. From the first page, a world of wonder and mystery and emotional depth is laid out before the reader, and when the crisis comes that leads our heroine out of her everyday life, we’re more than ready to follow her. Her best friend – daughter of the frightening and dictatorial governor – goes missing and Isabella feels she is to blame. With her father out of action, Isabella must use her cartography skills to lead a rescue party into the forbidden territories. What follows is a thrilling blend of adventure and magic that keeps the reader turning the pages. I loved the details of the different settings Isabella journeyed through and the twists of plot and the threats to her were deliciously tense.
Much as I enjoyed it, I admit to slight reservations about The Girl of Ink and Stars. Though definitely not about the title – that’s the kind of title that when you think it up you must go running about the place like a celebrating footballer. But I found myself not absolutely convinced by the world the author had created. For me, the history and mythology and current state of the island did not stand up to too close a scrutiny. I’m not going to labour the flaws. I’m sure with the breakneck speed most readers would probably swallow such an adventure, they would not even stop to notice. And I’m certain I can be accused of taking too prosaic an approach to things which are, after all, mysterious and magical and therefore not obliged to abide by rules of logic. Let me just say that I had a couple of unanswered ‘why’s and some places where I found myself going, ‘but hang on a minute…’
Impressive for a first novel. I look forward very much to seeing what Kiran Millwood Hargrave will come up with next.
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