Exhilarating, Harrowing, Astonishing . . . Those are only a few of the appropriate adjectives for Francis Hardinge's latest novel, "Gullstruck Island." I can only think no one else has written a review yet because it seems presumptuous to comment on such an achievement. The characters--quiet, determined Hathin; the irresponsible seer Arilou; the Superior, buried beneath the weight of his ancestry; sly Jimboly; monumental Dance; and many, many others--stay in one's mind after reading. The themes--from the way we respond to overwhelming loss and the pitfalls of intercultural communication to scapegoating and the nature of attraction--are innumerable and interlinking, and the plot shows some facets easily while surprising with others. One wants to linger in reading in the knowledge that it will be a long time before another novel of this calibre is encountered, but dash through to alleviate the almost overwhelming suspense. But it is the beauty of the prose that is most noticeable...
Foolishly, when I was around 17 years old, I mused out loud to my friend, "I don't know why it's so difficult to be a successful artist. All you have to do is create something entirely new."
Entirely new. I said this like it was as simple as tying a shoe or picking a flower. Of course, it's not that simple; it's immensely difficult to be original. Just ask Nicholas Sparks and every Tom Cruise movie ever. Hey, even ask Shakespeare!
But in Gullstruck Island (also published under the title The Lost Conspiracy in the US), Hardinge fulfills my age 17 requirements for membership to the successful artist club because the story, characters, and world she creates are familiar but ultimately unlike anything I've ever read before. Gullstruck Island is a place where volcanoes fall in love; where certain people can detach their five senses from their bodies in order to witness events on the north of the island with their eyes while hearing a whisper on the south of the island...
Gullstruck Island is one of the best books I've read in a long time, and I'm amazed to find this quality of writing in YA. Where so many young adult books have fallen into shallow world-building, flat characters, and romance-driven plots, Hardinge tells a full, unique story. With beautiful prose she weaves a unique world that incorporates elements of fantasy without a single magic cliche. Not to mention that the heroine is actually intelligent! I was drawn in by the characters from page 1 through page 500 (which is saying something!)
I've already begun to recommend this book to anyone who will listen. It has more than enough depth and character development for an adult reader. And, even though the unabridged version may be daunting in length, I like to believe this is the kind of book that can get a kid reading.
Next to Incarceron, this is one of the best new YA fantasy novels I've found in years.
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