Title: The Girl of Ink and Stars
Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Genre: Fantasy, middle grade
Publisher: Chicken House
Pushlishing Date: 2016
My rating: ***
I really had a hard time reviewing this book. It made me think about what I’m reviewing when I review a book, because I love the design of it, the cover is beautiful, it has french flaps, and every single one of the pages inside has this great map design. When I review I book I usually just review the content, which is how a review should be, but I feel like I want to shout out whoever designed this beautiful thing! The design is so important here, it’s pretty much what made me buy the book, because it managed to set the scene and the tone of the book before I’d read a single word, even on the blurb.
However, the beautiful design and the fact that that probably meant the publishers had put a lot of money into this book really made me expect great things from it. It’s like the publishers hyped it up so much – and then I was left really disappointed.
So, this book is set in a town on an island. A generation before the story takes place, a man arrived on the island, took over the town, and isolated them from the rest of the island. He’s now the general. Our main character is best friends with his daughter, and after the body of a girl is found in the forest, the general’s daughter goes out past the forest, to the forgotten zones (for some reason?) so the main character dresses as a boy to join the governor’s search for her.
The thing I loved about this book is the world building. The description of the island and its landscape, and what it’s like to live there. The rich mythology and importance of old tales that may hold truth in them. This really had a sense of other-worldliness. Sort of. There just wasn’t quite enough of it! I felt like the world building was just getting going, and then the plot kicked in. I want more world building! Overall, this is my biggest criticism of the story, as I feel like the world-building is the author’s biggest strength, but I didn’t feel like she played to it. I feel like there was too much of stuff she’s not so good at.
I feel like the author is not great at writing action scenes. Which sucks, because there were quite a few action scenes in this book. Especially for such a short book! A lot of the time I was left really confused about what was actually, physically going on in a scene and I just carried on reading and kind of muddled my way though it.
The other main issue I had with this book is that it’s too short. Like I said with the world building earlier, I don’t think there was enough of it. The length of the book also meant that I didn’t get to know the characters or the relationships very well, which meant I couldn’t really understand their actions. The governor’s daughter and main character’s best friend goes into the woods because…why? The governor’s soldiers do some spoilery things because…no idea. Also from the start it seems like people on the island hate the governor, so how come the soldiers are so loyal? Plus, from the start we find out that the main character’s mother and twin brother died when she was younger, and I feel like this is never addressed. The book just isn’t long enough to do all the things I want it to!
I think my problem with it might be the fact that it’s middle grade, which I don’t read a lot of, and didn’t know when I started reading this book. I only found out after I finished it and it made a bit more sense. I don’t read a lot of middle grade books but from what I hear, they’re pretty short and plot heavy. So I can understand why that’s the case in this book, but I really don’t feel like it plays to the writer’s strengths. I wanted this book to be longer, with more world-building (in terms of the history and mythology of the island), and more fleshed out characters and relationships. I feel like that would be a beautiful book!
I would like to point out, however, that the main character of this book is the daughter of a cartographer. Since the town was cut off from the rest of the island, there’s no need for this work anymore, but she has been brought up learning how to draw maps and loves it. The descriptions of her parents’ maps and of the maps she does herself are beautiful, they’re so lovely they make me want to be a cartographer even though I would be terrible at it. I feel like that’s a huge strength of the book – but it kind of illustrates my point that the author’s strengths lie in her description and world-building rather than in action-filled plot!
I’d love a young adult or adult book from her, something a little more fleshed out. But then, maybe middle grade just isn’t for me. What did you think of this book?