Saturday, 16 July 2016

The Girl of Ink & Stars, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart

This, as you can see, is a handsomely intriguing book from the off.  It demonstrates the power of a really strong cover because it caught my attention amongst the mass of new covers on display in shops and online, and it’s clearly attracted the attention of many others.  This book has been Waterstones Book of the Month, and has become a best seller in a way that few debut novels do. 

I’ll admit a personal reason for curiosity about this book too.  Kiran Millwood Hargrave acted in a play at university with one of my daughters, and I had a feeling that somebody who could ‘live’ a story as well as she did then would have the capacity to create story well too. 

I was right.

This is a story told in the first person by young Isabella, living on an island where myth and politics clash, throwing her into an action-packed adventure of danger and daring and wonder … from which not everybody returns happily ever after.  Underground tunnels, demons and giant predatory beasts, magical maps and materials, fire and water, and misunderstanding people all add-up to excitement and a touch of romance.  The final stages of this story certainly have the reader gobbling the text up to find out how things will end.

I have some quibbles, and I am aware that they may be quibbles from a hyper-critical adult and of a sort which wouldn’t bother the young reader this book is really intended for.  There’s a large cast of characters with unfamiliar names along with numerous place names, and I found it hard to keep track of them all.  I felt that continuity didn’t always work.  Isa empties her satchel, then a couple of pages later empties her satchel again; that sort of thing.  But what most annoyed me was that the maps (hooray, I love maps!) provided on the in-turned flap of back and front covers didn’t fit with what we are told in the narrative.  The tunnel is in the shape of a ‘knot’ and then ‘coils like a shell’, and yet neither of those things is evident on the map.   And so on.  So I’d advise not trying to follow routes on the maps as you read, but to regard them as decoration!

But who can resist a heroine who sets out on an adventure with a chicken … and the chicken is still there at the end?!  There’s some wonderful writing in this.  I, for one, look forward to seeing what Kiran Millwood Hargrave writes next.

Pippa Goodhart


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