The Girl of Ink and Stars

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I’m a sucker for a beautiful book.

I was on twitter the other day looking at what other people were reading and someone tweeted about The Girl of Ink & Stars and I admit, I took one look and wanted it. It’s not just the cover, which is lovely, but the inside pages are strewn with star trails. And it actually sounded like a great read.

Isabella is the daughter of a cartographer. He used to explore the world beyond Joya (their island) and make beautiful maps from his adventures. Then an oppressive Governor arrived. The Governor doesn’t let the people go beyond their small sectioned off part of the island, which is rigged with bells to alert his guards of anyone trying to leave. Isabella dreams of seeing beyond their little hometown after years of studying the maps on her walls and growing up with her father’s stories of the world that exists beyond their boundaries.

When Isabella’s friend from school dies in the Governor’s orchard, Isabella gets in a fight her with other schoolmate Lupe, the Governor’s daughter, and blames her. Lupe runs away into the forgotten territories to find out why their friend died. Wracked with guilt and regret, Isabella cuts off all her hair and disguised as a boy, joins in the search party to find her.

As the search continues, Isabella realizes there is much more to be saved than her friend. Their whole island is on the precipice of destruction.

Definitely written for young readers, the characters are simple and the plot is straight forward. Interwoven through Isabella’s trek into the forgotten territories are aspects of the myths she grew up with. The balance between good and evil, the concept of sacrifice for the greater good and ultimately, the end of a myth that began long before she was born.

Though it didn’t engross me the way I wish it could have, it was a fun read that kept me interested to the last page. As an adult reader, my biggest disappointment was that the characters felt flat. The author doesn’t give them enough depth that we really care what happens to them in the end.

Though it’s not a book I would highly recommend to adult readers, for a young reader just discovering fantasy and mythology, it may be a perfect choice.

Clariel (Abhorsen #4) by Garth Nix

Have you ever read Garth Nix? Wait, no. More specifically, have you ever read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series? If you haven’t, you should go out and get them. Train, plane, kindle, library, stealing/borrowing from your local bookstore (or the more traditional route of buying the book..) however you wish that will get your eager little paws in possession of these stories, it’s imperative you go for it.

The first three, Sabriel, Lireal and Abhorsen are wonderful. They’re all incredibly distinct adventures in this world Nix has created. A world that teeters between the normal world, in a city named Ancelstierre, much like our existence (no magic) and the Old Kingdom (full of magic.)

In the first adventure a young lady named Sabriel is at school in Ancelstierre when her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing. The Abhorsen is the person who protects the world from the malevolent dead. Those spirits that have been enslaved, gone astray or are naturally evil. The Abhorsen uses bells to bind and send the spirits where they’re supposed to go, beyond. So in a search for her missing father, Sabriel dones a set of bells, accompanied by a smart-aleck cat, Mogget, who talks, accidentally wakes up a prince and goes on an adventure to save her father.

In Lireal we meet the Clayr, cousins to the Abhorsens. They see the future and can give a hint to how it all ties together or what needs to be done to avoid disaster. Lireal, never having gained the sight, feels unwanted and out of place in her home with the Clayr and ends up embarking on a journey that will show her who she is and what she is meant to become.

In Abhorsen, Lirael’s adventures are extended as she learns what it will truly take to save the world from an ancient evil.

And then, comes Clariel.

Thus far, all of the Abhorsen stories have more or less ended positively. The characters undergo great losses and suffer quite a bit, but in the end they mostly end up with a brighter tomorrow for the greater good and their own life journeys. Clariel, though, is a bit darker.

Clariel is forced to move away from her beloved forest to live with her family in the city of Belisaere. She hates the masses of people, the high walls, the politics, the society and how her future is being decided for her. The King is disintegrating into his own mind and the Guiltmaster Kilp is taking control to use power for his own evil ends. Her parents are blind to all of it due to their grand new life as part of the Goldsmith’s guild. As a plot to put Clariel on the throne and overthrow the king comes to light, Clariel ends up running for her life. She seeks help from an unreliable source which eats away at the very essence of her being and changes her path to an irrevocably destructive one. Though Clariel’s intentions are good, some mistakes cannot be fixed. Though she survives her adventures, Clariel’s fate is a dark one foretold in the earlier Abhorsen books.

And though we suspect that she is who we think she is, as the ending creeps closer we can only hope it is untrue and that we’re ultimately wrong. We hope that some magical resolution will make Clariel’s story a little brighter, a little less despairing. But in the end, it is all as we feared and nothing more.

Clariel is yet another excellent addition to the Abhorsen series, if a darker, more hopeless version than anything we’ve read by Nix before.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of cold. The sun disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the remaining luminosity shifts from dusk to twilight. The people around you are growing restless from waiting, a sea of shuffling feet, murmuring about abandoning the endeavor in search of somewhere warmer to pass the evening. You yourself are debating departing when it happens.”

The Night Circus is, in a word, enchanting. I started this book over coffee yesterday morning and throughout my day whenever I had an appointment or a chore, all I could think was “When do I get to go back to reading The Night Circus?”

Le Cirque des Reves is a black and white circus that appears suddenly and leaves just as silently. It opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. It is filled with circular paths that lead to circular tents, each of which invite you to see an astounding environment, performer or experience. There is the ice garden, a whole crystalline world made of sculpted frozen water, from the petals of the roses to the benches at the fountain. There are the acrobats who twirl and twist in ways no human thought possible, the statues which are real people moving so slowly you can’t actually see it, the fire eaters and the fortune teller. The tents are filled with memories, mazes, magic and dreams. All of which are constantly growing, changing and new tents full of new marvels are always appearing.

The Night Circus could not exist without two people who are central to its life and this story. Celia, the Illusionist, uses her real magical abilities to put on a show as one of the acts in the circus. Marco, the proprietor’s assistant, is another magician who manipulates aspects of the circus from the outside world. Celia and Marco both grew up with rivaling teachers, they learned their magic in different ways, through pain and heartbreak for one, through books and loneliness for the other. Their whole lives they were being prepared to compete with each other in a chosen venue to prove which method was stronger. What we learn quickly is that this chosen venue is The Night Circus and though its entire existence is beautiful and wondrous, it is also a very serious and dangerous game.

What stands out in this book is not so much the characters or the plot, though both are quite engaging, but the circus itself. I could not help but wish with every tent that was visited, every amazing new aspect of this world unveiled, that there would always be more. It is completely mesmerizing.

Everything from the food “Apples dipped in caramel so dark they appeared almost blackened but remained light and crisp and sweet. Chocolate bats with impossibly delicate wings. The most delicious cider Bailey had ever tasted.

To each new act we encounter “But the figure on this platform does not move. Bailey almost thinks it is a statue, dressed in a white gown edged in matching fur that cascades beyond the platform to the ground. Her hair and skin, even her eyelashes, are an icy white. But she moves. Very, very slowly. So slowly Bailey cannot pinpoint exact motions, only slight changes. Soft flakes of iridescent snow float to the ground, falling from her like leaves from a tree.

It would be hard to explain this book further, as there are multiple storylines that twist and turn around Marco and Celia, much like the black and white paths around the tents they create. The characters that inhabit their world each add something different, whether it be sadness, magnificence or comfort as soothing as hot chocolate on a dark rainy night.

As I turned the last page of this book, I was delighted and then suddenly, overwhelmed by a deep feeling of melancholy. I realized that though I can visit Le Cirque des Reves in the pages of this book for years to come, I will never actually get to see the mysteries of The Night Circus. And for that, I will always feel a profound regret that such wondrous place doesn’t actually exist.

Top Ten Settings In Books

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is:

Top Ten Settings in Books

Cemetery of Forgotten Books –  When I read Shadow of the Wind and Daniel got to go to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, all I could think was how much I wished it really existed! I want to go! For those that haven’t read this book: it is an endless library of old, forgotten titles lovingly preserved by a select few initiates. According to tradition, everyone initiated to this secret place is allowed to take one book from it, and must protect it for life. I have always wondered what book would pick me to protect it. If only.

London Below – In Neverwhere when Richard Mayhew rescues Door, a whole new world in London is exposed to him. Sure he becomes invisible to real people, loses his job, his apartment and basically doesn’t exist anymore.. but its worth it! Now he gets to experience London Below, a much darker and magical london than the one above. I want to talk to the rat speakers, cross the night bridge and see the floating market! The floating market sounds like a wondrous place. Then I’d find a way to take a ride at the Earls Court just to see where I’d end up. Sure its all a little dangerous, but all interesting places are.

Narnia – Who wouldn’t want to live in Narnia? As a kid I always wanted to climb through the back of a wardrobe or see that magical light post appear. Meet some fawns, chat with some beavers, take a sail on the Dawn Treader. I can’t help it, sometimes when I’m walking in a forest… a small part of me still is hopeful.

Never Never Land – Pirates, magic, flying, fairies, mermaids, indians.. really, a haven for anyone who is a child at heart. And you can only get there by flying with fairy dust, probably the coolest mode of transportation ever.

Camp Halfblood – Camp Halfblood always sounded like so much fun! A sanctuary for demigods that keeps out their enemies. The magical cabins, the games, the training and even ambrosia which sounds delicious. Sure you could die if you eat too much, but who cares? It tastes like chocolate chip cookies and sunshine. (I may have added that sunshine bit, but in my head thats always how it sounded) Also, I’d really like to be a demigod. (Zeus if you’re listening, you can claim me now. I’ve read the books, I’m ready for this.)

Leviathan – From Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld. Steampunk books are often a lot of fun, but Westerfeld definitely outdoes most of the others with his creations. I would love to fly on the Leviathan! Its an amazing huge biological airship (that sort of resembles an enormous flying whale blimp) and functions as a self-contained ecosystem.  I want to be on it but I also want to watch it sail through the night sky. It sounds glorious.

Wonderland & Looking Glass – I know when Alice fell down the rabbit hole and went through that looking glass, things got a bit on the crazy side. Sure the queen was a bit cranky, but other than that it sounded delightful. Changing size because of drinking and eating, animals that talk, tea parties, nonsense abounding! I always thought it sounded like a lot of fun and Alice was a bit uptight about it. Just enjoy it honey, so what if you’re as big as a house or as small as a pea?

The Chocolate Factory – Who could read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and not want to win a golden ticket to the factory? Chocolate lakes, magic dinner gum and even a teleport machine! The Chocolate room always sounded the best, but I’d love to peek into the Nut room and the Inventing room too. This chocolate factory doesn’t just make the best candy in the world, its a grand adventure.

Middle Earth – I would love to be a hobbit. To live beneath a hill, drink, dance, enjoy a pipe once and a while, appreciate the greener things in life. It sounds like a relaxing existence. Of course, I’d want to live there after Frodo fixed everything. None of that war and tribulations for me, thanks. Also, I’d like a pet dragon. I think if I lived in middle earth I could manage that.

OZ – I wasn’t sure about this one because I never had the urge to actually go there, but it is a great setting. Witches everywhere, munchkins, the emerald city. It sounds like a really interesting place to be!