The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

This month’s Waterstones Book of the Month is an absolute joy of a début novel from a bright new talent, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, who has already made a name for herself through her work as a poet and playwright.

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The Girl of Ink & Stars is the tale of Isabella, the daughter of a cartographer forbidden to travel outside of the small island village Gromera, which she calls home. Through her father’s maps and stories, Isabella dreams of a world she’s never seen and yearns for a chance to follow in his footsteps; to map the island she lives on and to see the world across the sea. When her best friend, the Governor’s Daughter Lupe, goes missing into the forests that border the village, Isabella is determined that she is the only person equipped to find her – relying on her study of maps and stars to track Lupe accurately and swiftly. It’s outside of the safety of her home that she starts to understand why the rest of the island has always been out of bounds, and starts to realise that the stories and myths that she grew up with might be a lot closer to home than she first realised.

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Good lord do I love a good map in a book.

This book is traditional children’s storytelling at its very best. Isabella is shot through with powerful curiosity and courage, and Lupe is filled with confidence and determination, and the two of them are the perfect two sides of the coin to Philip Pullman’s Lyra Belacqua, and through them the story is given its sense of whimsy and wonder, as well as its pace and tension. The Governor is another highlight as a character too – his motives being shadowy and complex, morally grounded if muddier in their execution. The real main character of the book though, is the Isle of Joya itself – a beautifully tragic and richly imagined home filled with myth and folklore that pulls so much from ancient stories of warrior princesses, crazed demons and dizzying labyrinths. The way the island is described – its history, the lack of animals, the grey and ashen trees and strange empty villages – all create a real sense of age and melancholy that counteracts the story’s two main characters and creates a battle between hope and fate that weaves into words, underlying the narrative.

Kiran’s skill as a poet shines through the way the story is told too, filled with rich language and lyrical passages that make it seem as though the story and the setting are singing as your work through it, filling the whole plot with a sense of magic, wonder and beauty. Plus, the book is simply sublime as an object, with gorgeous pages dotted with golden illustration, a striking choice in font style & colour and an absolutely beautiful fold out map that serves as a jacket (which I actually squealed at upon first seeing) – it really reminded me of the first time I picked up a copy of The Hobbit, and the feeling of ancient, deep world building you get from looking at something so beautifully crafted.

The Girl of Ink & Stars is the magic of J.K. Rowling and Diana Wynne-Jones wearing the adventure pyjamas of Eva Ibbotson and Katherine Rundell. It’s exactly the fun and feel a future classic Children’s novel should have, and I utterly adored it.

Thanks for Reading,

D

P.S. You can pick up a copy at your local Waterstones, or on the website HERE.

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Split Second by Sophie McKenzie

Sophie McKenzie is one of the best known names in the UK Young Adult/Teen Literature circles. Author of the bestselling Girl, Missing series, she deftly casts her talents towards action, thriller & romance with apparent ease. Which is why it’s shocking to admit that Split Second (currently September’s Book of the Month at Waterstones) is the FIRST of her novels I have ever actually read! Suffice it to say though; it will most certainly not be the last…

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The book’s striking hardback jacket.

Split Second is set in London, in the not too distant future. A sociological nightmare of a world, where poverty runs at an all time high, unemployment is uncontrollable, & the Government are about as corrupt & useless as they come. In this pressure cooker of anger & injustice, a terrorist attack strikes a market in Canal Street. A horrific bomb was planted by an extreme right wing organisation known as the League of Iron, a group dedicated to the abolition of non-white citizens in Britain, & caught in the blast was Charlie’s Mum, leaving the teenage girl orphaned, angry & confused. Also left in a coma from the blast was Nat’s older brother Lucas, but Nat is sure his brother was there working with the racist terrorist group themselves, & he’s determined to understand what caused his brother to take up such extreme beliefs. All Charlie wants is pure, simple revenge. But when they both team up & meet a man named Taylor, who seems to know more about the League of Iron & Lucas’ involvement in the Canal Street Bombing, the whole world of right & wrong are called into question, as Charlie & Nat discover that the political system in England is so fractured, there’s no way of telling who’s in it for themselves.

Opening with a terrorist bomb blast, Split Second hits the ground running, & it pretty much only slows down for a period during the middle of the book, before roaring, full throttle through the ending. Our main protagonists have a fantastic story arc of wide eyed naive youngsters to embittered freedom fighters, & the strong romantic bond that forms between them never feels forced or unnecessary, as I am known to loathe in YA books. Charlie is a strong, sour lead, & I loved her rude, stand-offish nature, creating a sense of a girl who really has lost everything, & now views the world through a bitter gaze tinged with a lust for revenge. Her driven nature makes her chapters really fly forward, & her slowly softening nature makes her character development very warm & realistic. Nat didn’t grip me from the off in the same way, but as his curiosity gets the better of him, some of the revelations he uncovers make for some of the books best cliffhanging chapters. The support characters are good fun too, particularly Jas, Nat’s twin sister, who’s cool, relaxed enthusiasm made her a welcome change of pace from the blurring action scenes. Taylor’s gruff military background may be a familiar character type, but it fits his role in the story perfectly, & his punctuated moments of humanity help flesh him out from the usual ex-army stereotype.

The plot is a chilling social dystopia, involving riots & racially motivated attacks which for me personally, rang eerily similar to some of the recent events in the last few years in the UK. Sophie McKenzie has her finger on the pulse of a future that is all too plausible, one where the recession never lifts, & government cuts are forcing unemployment levels sky high. More terrifying than Zombies or Nuclear Warfare, this is a world brought down by its own greed, & one there are seeds of all around us. Split Second manages to have a social & political voice, without being too slow or philosophical, but still have a strong moral message to put across to the reader. It reminded me a lot of the British Dystopian in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta graphic novel. Before reading this novel, I already knew Sophie had a great reputation for non-stop action, & the final third of Split Second is a testament to her skill for pulse-pounding, gripping sequences. It just does not let up, & I found myself devouring it in little under an hour, unable to tear myself away from the page.

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                               From the Split Second book trailer.

This book is the great start to a new series from the bestselling author, & it made me determined to start reading her backlist. With an exclusive edition as the Children’s Book of the Month in Waterstones stores right now, it’s worth getting stuck in!

‘Till Next Time!

D