It is widely known that you should never judge a book by its cover, but that is exactly what I did and the book I got in return was truly amazing.
The girl of ink & stars is Hargrave’s first novel but I am already excited to see what more she may bring. At only 26 Hargrave has managed to create a wonderfully exciting children’s novel that I am sure will become a firm favourite for many. Despite being aimed at children, I was hooked in by the mystery of the book and just had to read on to find out the answers.
“It reads like a fairy tale that’s a thousand years old, so accomplished and rich and yet brand new and startling all at once” -Melinda Salisbury
I could not agree more. It really feels like a book that has been around for years and yet is brand new and totally original.
I first saw a picture of this book on Instagram and was immediately drawn to it. There is simply something about the cover of this book. It seems to radiate a feeling of intrigue and adventure, and those two words sum up the book perfectly. The title of the book adds to this and hints at Da’s (the father of the main character) work as a cartographer and how Isa (the title character) will come to follow in his footsteps. There are even maps on the inside covers and I found these very helpful to visualise the island as I was reading the book. The book is split into four sections, each beginning with a page announcing the location in which the action of the section will take place and each has illustrations to match the location. Although the pages of the book itself are simple, they are very originally designed in blue and orange with small, yet beautiful, illustrations around the edges of the pages. Everything about the aesthetics of this book is pleasing.
Hargrave has not only created a fictional setting, the Isle of Joya, but has created with it a rich history filled with myths and legends. She has gone so far as to almost create another world with countries that are named similarly to real life, but that are slightly different, for example, ‘Amrica’. The whole setting is so vivid that it begins to feel like a real place as you read. The legends of the island create smaller stories within the main novel, such as the story of Arinta and Yote, yet the main narrative runs throughout.
The story itself is narrated in the first person by Isa. I found her to be loveable and relatable as a central character and her feisty, determined, adventurous nature reminded me of Scout from Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. She was certainly my favourite of all the characters and her desire to follow in the footsteps of Arinta (a legendary girl warrior) is very relatable as many of us have someone we aspire to be like.
We follow Isa on her journey to uncover the strange goings on that have been happening in her small village of Gromera. This journey leads her to disguise herself as her brother Gabo (who previously passed away) and take her place with a party formed by the Governor to enter the Forgotten Territories and bring Lupe (the Governor’s daughter who is also Isa’s best friend) back to Gromera. Isa cannot bear to miss the opportunity of seeing the rest of the island and believes it to be her fault that Lupe ran away. As the party explore the island, it becomes clear that something big is happening and Isa starts to wonder if the myths and legends are really true. Despite a couple of moments that I found slightly nasty, a child would no doubt overlook such moments, the story is thoroughly exciting. There is never a dull moment and there is always a reason to turn the page and read on. For me, it was the mystery that had me hooked. I found myself always trying to find connections between the legends of the island and the action taking place. As this happened, the story almost felt like a legend itself. Hargrave also raises some interesting ideas, like that of fate, and some ideas come back repeatedly throughout the book.
One of my favourite scenes was a scene between Isa and Pablo (a childhood friend who is also part of the Governor’s party). The scene is very touching and begins with Isa and Pablo’s first experience of swimming in the sea. The two begin to speak honestly of their childhood and Gabo’s death and when Pablo asks Isa why the piece of Da’s walking stick she carries glows Isa teasingly asks if he wants her to tell him a story. When he eventually says ‘maybe’ (seemingly believing he is too old for stories) Isa launches into her Da’s version of the tale.
Hargrave also writes some sweet, tender scenes involving flashbacks to Isa and her family. We learn of Gabo and Isa’s Ma and although they are not present in the story, having passed away, we feel as if we know them from these flashbacks. Isa also recalls how her Da helped her draw her first ever map and the lessons that he taught her. Da often has wise words to say throughout the story and his words are often particularly beautifully crafted. These are a few of my favourite quotes from Da:
‘Each of us carries the map of our lives on our skin, in the way we walk, even in the way we grow’.
‘If you can learn to read the stars, you’ll never be lost.’
‘Because it’s [the ocean] also full of wonders, and can take you anywhere in this world.’
The ending of the story leaves a small amount of mystery but I found this to be quite nice and not at all annoying. It is a rather lovely, if a little unexpected, ending and left me feeling very pleased that I had picked up the book. I would highly recommend this book and I found it so beautiful and magical that I would recommend it for all ages.
By the end of the book I had no doubts that I fully agreed with the publisher’s message at the beginning of the novel.
‘Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s debut is full of startling ideas and wonderful invention. It’s really rather fiercely beautiful too.’
With the way Hargrave writes and the story itself, the world and the legends she has created, I find it impossible to disagree. I finish this review with one of my favourite quotes from the novel.
‘I felt like a songbird caught in the sharp gaze of a raven, tiny against the darkness closing in.’
The girl of ink & stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave, published by Chicken House, first published in 2016, RRP £6.99, ISBN 978-1-910002-74-2