Avast and ahoy!
Dear readers, I am simply bubbling like a bog with excitement, brimming like a bursting volcano! How delighted I am to be reviewing Kelly Barnhill‘s magnificent novel The Girl Who Drank the Moon.
Few would accuse me of diluting my praise, and it is true that I am often effusive in my reviews, yet you must not suppose that because I often verge on hyperbole my praise of this work is any the less sincere. When I tell you that I have enjoyed this book as much as any I have ever read, I mean every word. For as the Poet says:
Praise for books, like muffins,
lies not like hidden treasure in a lair
but rather is ingested and gives heat,
for readers’ love is fuel that readers share.
“But of course you would love this book!” a reader might interject. “I believe the whole story was written specifically to please you. It’s practically pandering to its critic!” And yes, I do recognize that several of the characters do seem uncannily familiar, especially Glerk the many-armed aquatic monster who enjoys literary allusions, who is best friends with an enthusiastically outgoing dragon. But I am sure that any influence Daisy and I had on the author was accidental, or at most subconscious. One would be hard pressed, after all, to find any fantasy author today who has not felt the influence of Daisy’s prodigious oeuvre.
Allusions to reality aside, the book is a fantastically original work of literature. It is a masterpiece of worldbuilding, portraying with an uncomfortable intimacy a society built on seductive falsehoods. There are plenty of villains in this world, yet even the most despicable of these characters feels grounded in reality. The boy Antain, an apprentice to the Elders of the Protectorate, is an especially complex character. His growth over the course of the book is brilliantly written, showing his struggle to come to terms with the corruption of his society as he comes of age within it. We completely understand his heroic act of rebellion towards the end of the book, even though we the readers know that it is wrongheaded and doomed to failure.
The complex story of Antain is but a side-plot to that of Luna, a girl abandoned as a baby in the woods as part of the Elders’ sacrifice to an evil witch. But Luna is saved from her doom by Xan, a very decidedly not-evil witch who takes Luna in and feeds her with moonlight, instilling in her great magical powers. By accident Luna gains far more power than any child can handle, and Xan must stifle her magic until she comes of age.
Any reader will surely delight in spending time with Luna’s curious adoptive family: Xan, Glerk the bog monster, and Fyrian the Perfectly Tiny yet Simply Enormous Dragon. Each of these characters is distinctly and beautifully written, and they are all instantly lovable. Every page of this book is as radiant and as full of magic as its protagonist.
But if I have not yet convinced you to go and read this magnificent book at once, let me once again refer to the words of the Poet, who says:
A kraken’s word is eight times true,
for he swears by every hand.
A dragon’s oath burns clear as fire
across an ashen land.
So when a dragon and a kraken
both recommend a book,
as we advise, it would be wise
to come and take a look.
Karl the Kraken