The Girl of Ink & Stars has just added Waterstones Children’s Book 2017 to it’s collection of glowing accolades. Isabella lives on the myth-rich isle of Joya. Her father was once an accomplished cartographer, and she has inherited this gift. It provides a rich backdrop to her childhood. When her best friend Lupe vanishes, Isabella joins the search party, venturing into the uncharted interior of Joya, where nebulous terrors are lurking in it’s dark heart.
This is an impressive foray into a world of magical realism and adventure. Drawing on the folklore of Gran Canaria, Kiran Millwood Hargrave has imagined a world where myths are not fanciful fictions but collectively forgotten truths. Joya is a jewel of an island. Legend tells how once it was untethered from the earth and sailed the mighty oceans. But Joya has been invaded and is now under the rule of the Governor. The day he arrived, all the songbirds flew backwards into the sea. Only huge, watchful ravens remain, ‘crouched on every roof’.
Isabella instinctively knows that Lupe’s disappearance is connected to the oppressive aura that squats over the island. In her bid to become the search party navigator, Isabella hacks off her plait, dons boys clothing, and packs a knife and compass. A female would be rejected, so behold Gabo, the cartographer’s son!
This episode of the adventure is perilous and swashbuckling. Isabella’s charade must be maintained, and her inherited cartography gifts summoned, to fill in the blank map of Joya’s interior. The island’s rich mythology is her guide in the quest to save not only Lupe, but also her beloved land and people.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave is also a poet, and it really shows in her beautiful, lyrical prose. Strong female characters and an enjoyably twisty plot add to the book’s general excellence. Expect to see this visualised on cinema screens in the near future.
The Girl of Ink & Stars is published by Chicken House, 240 pages.