I was wanting some YA fiction with a ballsy heroine. I wanted to go on an adventure of the sorts not to be found in the realm of our world. I picked up The Girl of Ink & Stars and oh my, did I get it the above and more with this book. The absolutely stunning artwork had me drawn in straight away and a quick flick through the pages showed me a beautifully illustrated map at the front AND back (and everyone knows a book with a map gets extra points from me, so a book with TWO, well, happy Dan!) Each page has illustrated borders running in blue and a goldish colour, so while you focus on the text the outer parameters of the page make sure you are contained within the story, not that anything will distract you from this!
Our protagonist is a young girl called Isabella. She lives with her father, cat and rather grumpy chicken on the island of Joya. Now there are great myths told of her home land, that it once sailed the seas like a ship until a war took place between two mighty forces, one determined to keep Joya free while the other wanted it to be tethered, never to roam again. Those who live there now talk of this legend and dream that they could be so free, as now they are under the fierce rule of a Governor sent from Afrik who rules the land with an iron fist.
Isabella likes to spend time staring at the walls of her home which are papered with her fathers maps. As a cartographer he not only provides distances, terrain and the like but he also manages to imbue his maps with a real sense of the place, those looking at them get a feeling for where they are about to go. One map on the wall holds her attention more than most and that was made by her mother, who passed away when she was younger, a couple of years before her brother also died. This map is different to those made by her father as it shows the island of Joya, but not as she knows it. Since the Governor arrived he has made a boundary around their town and banned anybody from crossing over this, and the consequences of ignoring his rule do not bear thinking about. This law has been in place since Isabella was born and she dreams of exploring the forests and beaches cut off to her.
The tight rule of Joya soon falls apart when the sudden murder of a young girl sends shock waves through the community. Will the Governor do his duty and protect his citizens, or will the islanders need to rise up to look after themselves? We know enough of Isabella to be sure, she isn’t going to sit back and not get involved either way.
I initially thought this was going to be a read for the younger end of the YA gang (maybe 8ish) but this story really does push things, not treading lightly it features some pretty frightening scenes and does not shy away from characters being killed off in a rather shocking manner. It is fast paced, with a plot that has you wanting to race through from the first page, great for more reluctant younger readers as they are not put off by any slower passages. I think it nicely strikes the balance of having enough ‘real life’ elements, looking at relationships with family and friends, as well as the more magical/fantastical side woven in. I think it’s a great transitional read, when a book with more bite and slightly more complex prose is needed, but your reader is not yet at the age of series like ‘The Hunger Games’ (although if they/you are reading at this level do not let this put you off, I’m 31 and I ADORED it!)
I would be more than happy if Millwood Hargrave decided to give us some more action sent on the island of Joya, but either way, I am now eagerly awaiting whatever she chooses to write next. In the bookshop I always have one YA that I seem to really bang on about to everyone that walks in the door, past hits include Rooftoppers, The Letter for the King, Beautiful Broken Things and Dumplin’, this book is most definately my current passion!
If you need holiday reading for a youngster or just want some escapism for yourself, do not hesitate to grab this gem!
The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave £6.99 (Chicken House)
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