Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Girl of Ink and Stars

The Girl of Ink and Stars seems to have been everywhere over the past year. Whilst it was chosen as Waterstones' children's book of the year, I don't think it had occurred to me that it really was a children's book (rather than YA). It is a beautifully written children's book but unlike, say, Scarlett Thomas's Dragon's Green, it didn't feel like it was partly written for adults. Which is fine, just it didn't really spark with me and I have started to feel a bit fatigued with reading younger books of late.

All things have a cycle, Isabella, a habit of returning the way they came. Seasons, water, lives, perhaps even trees. You don’t always need a map to find your path back. Though often it helps.

Anyway, onto the actual book! Isabella is the daughter of a cartographer and best friend to the Governor's daughter, Lupe. Her mother and twin brother are dead, and it is alluded to that the Governor's harsh regime contributed to their fate. When one of their classmates is found dead, Isabella blames Lupe and the two fall out. The next morning Lupe is missing; she's gone to find the killer and prove that she's not rotten.

In order to join the search party for Lupe, Isabella disguises herself as a boy. I'm not a huge fan of this trope; first off why can't girls have adventures anyway? Secondly, I find it hard to believe a haircut and some trousers is enough of a disguise.* Slightly redeemed by the fact one person who knows Isabella isn't fooled. Why are fictional fantasy worlds always a bit sexist? Demon dogs fine, gender equality? Nah, no one will believe that.

Isabella inhabits an alternate world, with similar place names but clearly a world without our level of technology. The island of Joya is based on the real life Canary Island of La Gomera. With all the volcanic activity of these islands I can imagine their mythology is full of danger from beneath, and this is brought through in the book.

As well as the supernatural elements it also has an undercurrent of colonial tensions. The Governor came from another land and took over the island. He brought it laws preventing the native people from leaving and split the island in two. If you break his laws, you are banished to the other side, never to be seen again.

Why had he come here? Why did he treat Joya as if it belonged to him, and not to the people who had lived here for centuries?

I think it would be a lovely addition to your child's bookshelf though. And don't be annoyed by the fact it has girl in the title, for once it is actually about a girl! In the US, it's called The Cartographer's Daughter, but I was pleased to hear that the UK publisher didn't want to use that formula. She's more than just the daughter of a man, and it turns out she's just as much a cartographer of him, using ink and stars to navigate and create her own maps.

*I feel the same way about Arya in Game of Thrones.

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Book Source: Purchased

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