Thoughts: The Girl of Ink and Stars, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I am officially back on the reading train. Choo choo.

The Girl of Ink and Stars, as well as being a Thing of Thing and Thing title, is another book for younger readers, but a solid level younger than Orangeboy. If you are not a young person, this may impact your enjoyment of the book, quite understandably, because it isn’t really for us.

Still, it’s really rather lovely. It opens in this deceptively idyllic island life, shut off from the outside world (with slightly off country and continent names – Europa, Amrica, Afrik, Chine – that could be either fantasy or a result of the island’s isolation), but quickly you realise that some shady stuff is going on. The island’s governor is not a good person or a good ruler, and there’s something larger, non-human and bad on the way.

It plays with this idea of the privileged living alongside the poor, in the friendship between the two main girls, Isabella, daughter of a cartographer whose job has been rendered obsolete by the enforced isolation of the island, and Lupe, the daughter of the governor who enforced the isolation. Lupe is a product of her upbringing, impractical, a little spoilt, oblivious to the reality of life for the vast majority of the village outside her house, and the book doesn’t shy from it. She’s a fundamentally good, kind person, but she is also what she’s been made to be. I don’t think I’ve seen a book aimed at this age of audience really engage with that sort of inequality before, and I found it really interesting to see.

It also touches on the responsibility that goes along with privilege, and the consequences of shirking it, which touched some environmental nerve in me (especially given the nature of the disaster threatening the island and the way it manifests). There’s still plenty of magic involved though, and I don’t know if I’d call it eco-fiction or anything.

There’s a nice thread of the power of storytelling and mapmaking as well, these human ways we have of chronicling space and time, and learning from the past.

It starts quite lightly, but it got its hooks right into me, and I ended up desperate to know how it was going to end. It’s a strange little book, and though it would be fair to say that I heavily suspected it was going to have a happy ending of some kind, I had no idea how it would get there, or what that happy ending would look like.

And yeah, okay, now I have my ending, I sort of want a sequel.

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