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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Review: Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge (Revised)

(Original Post here)
Okay so normally I wouldn't repost old reviews, but I was feeling awful for only doing 1 review so far this month and besides, this is basically my favourite novel of 2009, I wanted to pimp it as much as possible. Also added content to make myself feel like I'm not just posting the same old thing.

Title: Gullstruck Island aka The Lost Conspiracy (US)
Author(s): Frances Hardinge
Genre: MG Post-Colonial Fantasy
Page Count: 512
Publisher: MacMillan

The Summary: On an island of sandy beaches, dense jungles, and slumbering volcanoes, colonists seek to apply archaic laws to a new land, bounty-hunters stalk the living for the ashes of their funerary pyres, and a smiling tribe is despised by all as traitorous murders. It is here, in the midst of ancient tensions and new calamity, that two sisters are caught in a deadly web of deceits.

Arilou is proclaimed a beautiful prophetess—one of the island’s precious oracles: a Lost. Hathin, her junior, is her nearly invisible attendant. But neither Arilou nor Hathin is exactly what she seems, and they live a lie that is carefully constructed, and jealously guarded.

When the sisters are unknowingly drawn into a sinister, island-wide conspiracy, quiet, unobtrusive Hathin must journey beyond all she has ever known of her world—and of herself—in a desperate attempt to save them both. As the stakes mount and falsehoods unravel, she discovers the only thing more dangerous than the secret she hides is the truth she must uncover.

--From Author's Website.

The Review: First things first: I love Frances Hardinge (and hence cannot talk about her current work without random pimpage of her previous novels). There's always the risk of finding the later works by your favourite author disappointing, but not in the case of Hardinge. From the moment I saw the first page of her debut novel Fly by Night on the bargain shelves, I was a goner. It was love at first sight, pure and true, and with this latest addition to Hardinge's reportoire I feel like my little gold mine I plucked out of the bargain section oh so many years ago struck true. Frances Hardinge really let herself go with this novel. Her amazing wordplay seems to have taken on a new stage in this novel. I remember Fly by Night as the novel with such intoxicating words that you could just drown happily into them, forgetting the very premise of the story and lose yourself in words, words, beautiful words, the laughter and high rollicking fun. And Verdigris Deep showed a more serious side, with the same trademark wordplay still grabbing at you, but in a sticking out, unsettling sort of way, a prickling, itchy crawling at your skin that just fits beautifully with the horror genre that novel reflected. However, with Gullstruck Island, the words do not seek to grab your attention in a showy way, but settle around you, like dust, like our protagonist Hathin, quiet and unremarkable and glowing with inner zeal that can push mountains. Hardinge employed a restraint on her wordplay, letting the story shine through instead. And this more controlled, maturing writing is simply gorgeous and proves Hardinge to be a master of the art in English prose.

AND THE WORLDBUILDING. Homg the worldbuilding. (It had to be caps locked, it was just THAT GOOD.) Volcanoes mythology and folklore and intricate details of the geology and society in Gullstruck Island, not a thing missed, from the way language is used and the interaction between the different races and the Lost and the history and the layout of the land, and homg I could just die of happiness. Best post-colonial fantasy I’ve EVER read, even better than (…dare I say it?) Terry Pratchett’s Nation. And, you guys, I love Nation and Terry Pratchett. I didn’t think I’d come across something that’d top that novel in its genre but then Frances Hardinge comes along and I’m blown.

The cast in this novel is amazing in ways I can't even begin to describe. It's large and sprawling and everyone is distinct and unique and larger than life and my heart, be still. *.* The protagonists are lively, the villains are deliciously wicked, and the people who walk in the gray are well-rounded and have their own distinct voice and lives and I fell in love with each and every single one of them.

I love how tightly woven the plot was and the pacing was immaculate. Considering all these factors, I think it's safe to say that Gullstruck Island is easily Hardinge's best work yet, and easily my favourite novel of 2009.

And if my rambling and fangirling didn’t convince anyone, I’ll let the book do the talking and quote one of my favourite descriptions in this novel of volcano activity:

There was a hush-half-second like a gasp, a sense of something tiny but momentous change, of something cracking silently like a heart. The next instant, through that hidden crack beneath the surface, an oozing, millennia-old fire met dark, lucid water. And in that meeting, water and fire loved each other to destruction.

The Verdict: Best post-colonial fantasy novel I've ever read, also my favourite novel of 2009. Why have you not bought this book yet?

Rating: 100000000000000000000++++++++++++/5
Enjoyment Level: 10000000000000000000000000++++++++++++% AKA It is Perfection unto itself.

Title and Cover Discussion: Since I can't be talking about Gullstruck Island without comparing it to the US version, let's go there. First of all I love the title Gullstruck Island. It rings of those good old Island adventure stories like "Treasure Island". And the cover evokes that feel too. And um, when I see the US version, all I can think is, "I'm SO GLAD Canada got the UK copy." Skipping out on ratings 'cause I get the feeling that I'm being distinctly biased in all this comparison between UK and US cover and I don't want to give Gullstruck Island good marks solely because I'm hating on the US version.


choco (In Which a Girl Reads) said...

I LOVE FRANCES HARDINGE OMG. Fly by Night=one of my favorite novels of all time :D

Hahaha. I think we were talking about this earlier and how it's called "the lost conspiracy" in the US. I lovedlovedloved this book as well!

Awesome review :)



Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

yesssssss FRANCES HARDINGE FANGIRLS UNITE!! *high fives*

*squees* Isn't this novel THE BEST!? *fangirls like woah*

(I would make coherent reply, but my Hardinge fangirl self took over)