I have read some reviews about this novel that suggest that it was a disappointment and that it could’ve done a lot more. Firstly, I am going to disagree with the this because the Girl of Ink and Stars is a delight. Secondly, have we read the same novel? For real? This novel is abundantly wholesome, it is so morally ‘good’ that it is splitting at the seams. Perhaps some readers have missed the undertones of this novel: class division and the persecution of those different to you, the importance of forgiveness, the wonder of magic and mythology and a love for stories (and how none of these things are stupid), enduring loyalty and the strength of true friendship that goes beyond the threat of bodily harm. Cross dressing (because who doesn’t love a good disguise). Not to mention great value is placed on the environment in this novel
And the most difficult lesson of all: that you are capable of being the hero of your own story.
So please, dear friends, do not listen to those people who tell you this novel ‘doesn’t do enough.’ The story is simplistic but enjoyable, it’s easy to read and honestly a little gritty in areas which surprised me. I’d say that this is a novel for children on the cusp of becoming teenagers but I enjoyed it and I am certainly not an overgrown child *looks shifty*.
You know me by now, I can’t resist a good story and a little magic and the Girl of Ink and Stars really does both of these things so beautifully. But it doesn’t simply concentrate on the fantastical elements of the novel to drum up a little magic, but at the very core of this novel are two girls from very different backgrounds who want to rescue each other. This novel is a little fairytale like, there is a big positive focus on mythology and story telling and embracing odd hobbies as something to celebrate rather than ostracise. You don’t have to be the cool kid in this story, your individuality is the most important thing and these things alone are really positive messages to give to young people.
Isabella (our protagonist) is a really interesting character, her mother and brother have both passed away and the early chapters are tinged with grief. She is the daughter of the cartographer and she has learnt to draw maps and read the stars from her father’s instruction. Her father walks with a bad limp and is a terrible cook and they have a very ill tempered and very old chicken. But none of these details are forced upon the reader, things unfold very naturally and the tone of the novel always remains uniformly simplistic and airy and interesting and it doesn’t feel cliche.
The Girl of Ink and Stars follows Isabella (or Isa) on the island of Joya. It is quickly apparent that there is a villainous Governor running things and everyone poor is quite unhappy. Class division is prominently felt by angry boys like Pablo who are forced to work in the place of their mothers. Quite suddenly, a local girl is killed in bizarre circumstances. Which turns the town into a bit of a pressure cooker, people get angry, the Governor plucks his daughter Lupe (and Isabella’s best friend) out from the thick of it and sends his little men to do his dirty work.
Lupe, being a headstrong daughter of a hard and difficult man, sneaks out that night to meet up with Isa. They quickly spiral into a heated argument because, as I said before, the two girls are from very different worlds and Lupe is sheltered by her family from the misfortune of the lower classes. Isa feels horribly guilty as she goes home and then later finds out that Lupe has taken off into the forest to find whatever it is that has killed the local girl and to prove she “isn’t rotten.”
And then I’m sure you can guess what happens: Isa decides to go after her and discovers all of the weird and wonderful things in the forest and what the rest of the island looks like.
This novel would make a wonderful bedtime story. It’s engaging and has quite a timeless feel to it that brings the Brothers Grimm, C.S. Lewis and also Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials and Predator Cities by Philip Reeves. I really loved reading this. I think you’re mad if you don’t give it a go.