That cover. I mean…it just won me over from the other side of Waterstones. And then as I was paying, the cashier said he had a woman come in the other day and say it was one of the best books she’d ever read. After reading, I have a feeling he may have mixed it up with another book…
From the cover to the blurb to the designs on the pages themselves, this book sets itself up as a winner. Alas, I felt it didn’t quite live up to expectations, but I must acknowledge that this may be due to me approaching it as a YA, or at least a crossover, novel, and I found it be for a much younger audience.
The Girl of Ink and Stars (2016) tells the story of Isabella, a thirteen year old living on the fictional island of Joya, where her village has been isolated from the rest of the island by a tyrannical Governor. She lives with her father, a cartographer, but when he is taken to the labyrinthine prison beneath the island, and her best friend, also the Governor’s daughter, ventures into the unknown, Isabella must be brave and go on her own adventure.
Some of the premises, such as the cartography and the mythology, were really interesting and added an intriguing sense of magic and adventure to the plot, which otherwise felt a bit wobbly in its fast-pace. My particular favourite was the myth of Arinta, the heroine who defeated the fire demon beneath the island, and who hugely inspires Isabella. To have this female role model is really important both for Isabella’s character development, and for the young reader, male or female. There is just enough gesturing at this to make it a valuable message. Where this strength of message fell flat, however, was with the emotional depth; the death of Lupe’s father is shrugged off quickly, and the lack of response from Lupe is odd. Obviously death is a difficult subject in children’s writing, but it needs depth, otherwise it’s just an empty plot device allowing the children to run wild!
This was a difficult review to write, due to the fact that I didn’t really feel I had much to say. It felt rather bland, and just didn’t excite my reading senses, and I felt I’d been let down on a promise. I’d be intrigued to hear what younger readers make of it though! When I first started reading, I was reminded of Moira Young’s Dustlands series, with its lone female protagonist, without a mother figure, living in a skewed version of our Earth, and facing a scary journey ahead. And to some extent, this is Blood Red Road for a younger audience: it lacks the emotional depth and complex plotting that the blurb teases, but it does glint a magical shimmer every now and then, that is sure to captivate younger readers!