TThat cover. I mean…it just won me over from the other side of Waterstones. To confirm I’d made a winning choice, as I was paying, the bookseller told me said that a woman had come in recently and said it was one of the best books she’d ever read. I was itching to get started…
From the beautiful cover to the blurb to the creative designs on the pages themselves, this book sets itself up as a winner. 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.
The stand-out aspects of this book, for me, were the cartography and the mythology, which Millwood Hargrave clearly worked incredibly on, and which added a magical sense of adventure to the plot. 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. Having a female protagonist in an adventure story is a real draw for me as a reader, but I did find that at times the message behind this fell flat, such as when the death of Lupe’s father is shrugged off quickly, and the lack of response from Lupe. 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 is one of my first younger reads in a long, long time, and so I still feel like I’m getting to grips with this genre again. I think this is probably why I felt slightly let down on the bookseller’s promise! 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!