Frances Hardinge’s new book Gullstruck Island sat at the bottom of my new book pile (this is a rationed pile otherwise I would gobble them up too quickly) for longer than I had anticipated. I loved her two wildly different previous novels Fly by night and Verdigris deep and had heard good things about this new book. I vaguely suspect it was the whole island thing. Is it possible I still had Nation taking up the tropical island story slot in my mind and didn’t want to squish another book in yet? But anyway, when I finally read it on the weekend I was hooked.
Lots of weird and wonderful tribes live on Gullstruck Island, including the Lace who smile all the time and the colonialists who need land to accommodate their ever expanding graveyards. But the strangest people are the Lost, rare people who can move their senses around independently and as a result run lots of crucial services like exchanging news, weather forecasts and economic information. Hathin is a teenage girl who is a carer for her Lost sister, a role that is soon to become more demanding than ever as the cultures of Gullstruck collide.
Gullstruck Island is a very action packed adventure story. But there are lots of quieter moments that allow the reader to feel connected with Hathin and the other characters. I liked how honestly Hardinge dealt with the ambivalent feelings of love and frustration that can arise from caring for someone who needs lots of attention but is generally unresponsive in return. Familiar themes of the dangers of mob behaviour and revenge are treated in a sensitive and interesting way.
Hardinge has constructed a rich fantasy world that incorporates a wide assortment of customs from Earth but without making any of the cultures recognisable as a whole. Her language is similarly rich. I don’t usually stop during a first read of a story to admire phrases but as with her earlier books I was doing just that. And I think the bright red cover will be popular with children. I personally liked the insects that featured on some of the interior pages.
I’ve just realised the reason I haven’t read that many reviews of this book is that although it’s available on Amazon.com, it’s not actually released in the US yet – I think it’s going to be the renamed The Lost Conspiracy and come out in September.