The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Opening sentence: “They say the day the Governor arrived, the ravens did too.”

Set on the fictional island of Joya, this enticing Young Adult book is told from the point of view of 13-year-old Isabella.

It has had quite a lot of hype since its release in 2016, it was shortlisted for the Waterstones’ Children’s Book Prize 2017 amongst others, and it’s been on my to-read list for some time. I enjoy books set in other worlds that don’t spend too long describing the background or setting up the differences, they just present the facts of this place as they are, and it’s up to you to get on board with that or not.

Isabella lives with her father (her mother and twin brother, Gabo have sadly died prior to this story), a cartographer, who used to travel the world creating maps of the new places he found. However, since the island was taken over by the Governor – a dictatorial figure – the citizens are forbidden to leave their section of Joya, let alone travel off it.

Her father passed on his map-making skills to Isabella, who uses them to her advantage when the Governor’s daughter, Lupe (her friend), goes missing. Isabella travels with the Governor and his men, (along with Pablo, her older, attractive neighbour who provides a little romantic friction for our heroine) into the Forgotten Territories to look for Lupe and there they find a wonderful mixture of people and creatures, and the lines between reality and fairytale become distinctly blurred when Isabella discovers the true secret of the island of Joya.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked up this book, but the way it mixed the simmering tensions of the island-folk with the magical qualities of the stories within this story, made it a truly engrossing read that, yes, did require a suspension of disbelief for some sections – just as any good fantasy story does, really – but if you let yourself be taken into Isabella’s journey, you’ll really find yourself emotionally rooting for this headstrong, compassionate character. Well, I did anyway!

In tone and through the strong, gutsy heroine, it reminded me a lot of another Young Adult book, The Wolf Wilder, which I also very much enjoyed reading a few months ago.

On a final note, I loved the illustrations throughout on every page and the truly gorgeous design of the cover that not only catches your eye, but wonderfully represents the key themes in the book.

Rating: 4/5

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