Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Girl of Ink & Stars

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped. When her best friend disappears, she's determined to be part of the search part. Guided by an ancient map and her knowledge of the stars, Isabella navigates the island's dangerous Forgotten Territories. But beneath the dry rivers and dead forests, a fiery myth is stirring from its sleep...

Rating: ★★★★

From the first few pages I was hooked by this story.  Set in a world not too different from ours, we're straight away introduced to Isabella and her father who live in a village named Gromera on the island of Joya. Isabella's father is a cartographer and from him she has learned some of the basics of map-making.  This is a theme that runs throughout the story and echoed in the design of this beautiful little book, from the front cover to the illustrated maps on the end papers, to the cartography symbols that adorn each page.

The story and setting are very immersive and beautifully written. The island of Joya is steeped in history and we learn about this from the start as Isabella recounts some of the stories her father has told her, including the myth explaining Joya's past as a floating island and this was fascinating, involving all kinds of strange and wonderful things.  The author also begins setting up the story straight away as we're told that the island in the present day is divided, following the arrival of Governor Adori, and the villagers are forbidden from crossing into what are known as the Forgotten Territories.  Now something strange is happening in the village however we don't find out exactly who the Governor is, why the island is separated or what the strange happenings mean until much later on, and by then we're already following the characters on a wonderful adventure.

It was great to read a middle-grade novel with a heroine.  Isabella and her best friend Lupe, the Governor's daughter, very much lead the story.  For me, Lupe was actually the more interesting character.  Isabella is brave and loyal, but Lupe is more conflicted - she lives with her father who is not very fair to the people of Gromera, yet has to attend school with their children.  Because of this for me her growth during the story was more rewarding.  However I really enjoyed all the characters and in particular the focus on friendship.

This book has a lot of heart and is absolutely bursting with all the things I love most in a story - myth and magic, adventure, friendship.   At times I felt like there was a little too much going on, but that's barely a criticism.  I've read that the US version has been titled The Cartographer's Daughter and I'm not sure why, as I think the sense of magic and fantasy of the story are more accurately captured in the UK title.  Either way, I would definitely recommend this for both children and adults.