Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge

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Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge
Buy Gullstruck Island from Amazon.co.uk

Buy Gullstruck Island from Amazon.com

Genre: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Gorgeously dense fantasy with sophisticated worldbuilding, plenty of fantastical elements and a central character who stands out from the crowd by her very quietness. Sparkling wordplay lifts this book from its genre.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 1405055383

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Arilou is a Lost. She can depart her body and mind-fly with whichever senses she chooses. Hathin is her sister and helper. They live on Gullstruck Island, which depends on its Losts for communication, weather warnings, crime-solving and protection. But the little island has its tensions and is about to face a great threat. It will look to its Losts for safety. Worrying then, that Arilou and her sister share a dangerous secret that must never be discovered. With a blue-skinned assassin chasing them and only a dreadlocked warrior to assist, can the two girls live long enough to assure the future of their island home?

In my review of Verdigris Deep I said we need more of this loving and unusual use of words and language in children's books. I applaud Hardinge for refusing to patronise and this holds as true now, for Gullstruck Island, as it did then. There's a wealth of clever wordplay, a stretching of vocabulary, and a subtle but illuminating precision in phrase. And sometimes Hardinge takes a sentence and just flies with it. There's always an element of the unexpected. It wouldn't matter a jot to me what the book was about, I'd just read it for the sheer joy of the words as they come together. Just look at the opening sentences:

It was a burnished, cloudless day with a tug-of-war wind, a fine day for flying. And so Raglan Skein left his body neatly laid out his bed, its breath as slow as sea swell, and took to the sky. He took only his sight and hearing with him.

Yummy!

But it's not just wordy pyrotechnics. There's a great story too, especially for fans of fantasy. There's a questing element. There's high emotion: love, treachery, revenge, jealousy. There's worldbuilding of delicate artistry and it doesn't leave an I undotted or a T uncrossed. And there's an usually compelling central character. In world of big personalities with amazing, ludicrous or fearful traits, there's Hathin, whose name sounds like the settling of dust. She's remarkable by her sheer quietness, a quietness which camouflages her inner strength and determination.

You'll love it. They'll love it. It's a clever book with a pacy story and language that thrills. And it will transport its many readers. Recommended.

My thanks to the nice people at Macmillan for sending the book.

Fantasy fans may also enjoy Monster Blood Tattoo by D M Cornish, which also has superlative worldbuilding. Sophisticated readers might enjoy the doom-laden and atmospheric The Fatal Child by John Dickinson. Those who like an underlying sense of humour could look at Nation by Terry Pratchett.

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