RogerBW's Blog

Gullstruck Island, Frances Hardinge 05 July 2016

2008 fantasy. The isolated towns and villages of the volcanic Gullstruck Island rely on the Lost, who can project their senses at a distance, to keep them in contact with each other. Arilou is one such Lost, and Hathin is her helper. But it's all going to get vastly more complicated. US vt The Lost Conspiracy.

There are many secrets to be uncovered here, so I'm not going to talk about specifics of the plot at all: I really enjoyed finding them out for myself. But this is a story about how easy it is to whip up a mob, or to turn a disliked minority into the Them who are responsible for everything bad. It's about how hard it can be to abandon long-cherished traditions… and how necessary.

Arilou is clearly the Chosen One; but this story is about Hathin, who isn't amazingly beautiful or possessed of special talents, but has to do things anyway. (She shares a certain amount of this with Mosca from Fly By Night, but in a good way; she's her own person too.)

This is an alien setting, but one in which the reader quickly feels at home. There's an unusual sort of magic, and a variety of deadly creatures, and volcanoes who may be living spirits who need to be propitiated – or maybe it's all just coincidence. Yeah, right.

If there's any fault to be found, it's that the pace is perhaps sometimes slower than it might be, but after a while I found I just wanted to wallow more in this splendid subcreation.

This is fantasy that isn't Eurocentric, and in which many of the principal characters are women. It's a story that doesn't feel the need to force romance on people who are too busy saving the world to have time for it. And even one of the outright villains is highly sympathetic at first.

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