The Girl of Ink and Stars

‘Pablo,’ I said teasingly, ‘do you want me to tell you a story?’

‘No’ he huffed, lying back on the sand. There was a brief silence. ‘Maybe.’

The Girl of Ink and Stars (2016) is the debut novel of Kiran Millwood Hargrave, and a mighty impressive one at that. If you like maps, quests, female friendships, local legends, and (my personal favourite trope) girls dressed as boys, then this is the book for you.

The Girl of Ink and Stars follows Isabella, daughter of a map maker and amateur cartographer herself. When tragedy strikes, Isa doesn’t hesitate to dive into the unknown territories of her island, uncovering its mysteries while on a quest to save her friend.

Hargrave skillfully mixes the real with the fantastic, drawing us in with simple, poetic language. Her characters populate a world that is both mundane and magical, a world where stories come to life beneath the thin surface of the earth’s crust.

Oral histories and storytelling is the throbbing core of this novel, the simplicity of the narrative reads like an oral tale freshly transcribed. And the way map making is described, as if it were more than just ink and paper, as if it were the characters themselves, is just beautiful.

Each of us carries the map of our lives on our skin…

But not only is the writing beautiful, check out the paper it’s written on!

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In the beginning I found the story a little slow and it took me a couple of sittings to fulling get hooked, but it soon picks up pace and rushes ahead with startling speed. Adding in the simple use of language, there were times when I had to jump back and re-read what just happened, sometimes the action flew by so fast I completely missed it!

Likewise I felt that some of the characterization could have done with a bit more time. Although their motivations are always clear, it would have been nice to get under their skin a bit more and really discover their personalities.

But over all this was a great read and a beautiful fairy tale. I’m excited to see what Hargrave does next.

4 out of 5 stars

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