Title: Gullstruck Island
Author: Frances Hardinge
Publisher: MacMillan Children’s Books, 2009
Genres: Middle-Grade/Ya, Fantasy, Adventure
Three Word Description: Not As Expected
Goodreads Rating: 5/5
“On Gullstruck Island the volcanoes quarrel, beetles sing danger and occasionally a Lost is born . . . In the village of the Hollow Beasts live two sisters. Arilou is a Lost – a child with the power to depart her body and mind-fly with the winds – and Hathin is her helper. Together they hide a dangerous secret. Until sinister events threaten to uncover it. With a blue-skinned hunter on their trail and a dreadlocked warrior beside them, they must escape. Can the fate of two children decide the future of Gullstruck Island?
Discover a dazzling world, a breathtaking heroine . . . and an incredible adventure. For on the island of Gullstruck nothing is exactly as it seems!
With a cast of larger-than-life characters, this is a richly imagined adventure no child will be able to put down – or ever forget!”
I want to laugh at this summary. I cannot remember the last time I stumbled upon such a misleading description of a book. Sit down people, I’m gonna tell you about this book that I didn’t give 5-stars on Goodreads because of “an incredible adventure”. It is the work Gullstruck Island that truly is not what it seems.
Oh so you got this book, thinking it’d be like it ‘says on the (back)-tin’?
I went into this book, thinking I’d be focused on Frances Hardinge’s creative work and how it has developed from this book, which was published in 2009. Instead, I found myself trapped on an emotional rollercoaster which would shoot out in anger and dip down in despair. Oh, they promised you wouldn’t forget the story alright. But they never told you why.
This isn’t a story of just two sisters escaping from a mysterious assassin and uncovering a secret. The first part of the book may think this is what it’s building up to, albeit a bit slow. And then it completely escalates. I was debating on whatever or not to reveal the very core theme of this novel, as I myself prefer to know as little as possible. However, I really want with all my heart that everyone should read a middle-grade/YA fantasy that deals with such a horrifying subject. The main theme of this novel, is in fact Genocide. Gullstruck Island corporates the genocide which took place in colonial time, during the Holocaust, throughout history and can be found even in the future from when it was written.
Hardinge’s work is really not meant for just kids and teens. The book is written in such a way, from characters, writing style and plot, that anyone can ‘enjoy’ it. Enjoy however is not the word that really describes the number of times I chocked on tears or had to pace in anger. This book was great by any means, by all which I will soon be going through, but it’s not something you’d sit down on a couch with and a nice warm cup of tea to feel cosy. This is a book that’ll constantly have the kettle boiling in order to make yourself Camomille tea to calm your nerves.
For throughout the majority of the book I was filled with such an overwhelming mix of anger, desperation and grief. Despair is perhaps the best word; utter despair. I cannot count the number of times I had to put down the book, to enter my imagination where I could reach Gullstruck Island myself. Where I could grasp at every villain, every impassive character, every single background character that revolted at a people and whispered rumours of them with no regards for the consequences. This despair completely filled my imagination of me shaking, punching, shouting at every character that allowed these horrible things to happen.
” ‘I never thought I would hear you shouting. It doesn’t suit you. It makes you ugly.’
Grief was ugly. Rage was ugly. Fear was ugly.
‘You made me ugly,’ “
Of course, it was far from just the theme and how well it was handled that made this book great. No there were so many things that made this book just so good. For a start, we have the main characters; Arilou and Hathin. And from the beginning, you’ll find out that they’re not all that they seem. As for all Hardinge’s books, I can see that characters and their development is not a challenge for the author. Her young heroine Hathin develops such determination and courage that I was immensely inspired by her, yet at the same time, my Big Sister instinct wanted me to do nothing less than wrapping her in blankets and murder everyone who hurt her. But in all, Hathin is my latest addition to ‘favourite heroines of all time’.
“You are dust, her eyes said. You are dirt. You are nothing. Why do you bother surviving? Why are you still alive?
I am the dust in your eyes, was the answer in Hathin’s look. I am the dirt that will bury you. I am the nothingness waiting to open up under your feet. And I can hold on longer than you.”
Knowing Hardinge from her later books, plot-twists and tiny but extremely significant details, is just what I expected and was rewarded from her. However what really stuck with me is how the world creation has such an important meaning for everything in the story. It’s learning a culturally-‘affected’ saying earlier, only for it to later break your heart (as an example). The existence of gods and beasts are ever-present but in such a way, that you’ll understand that Gullstruck Island could just be any Pacific island. The magic and deities are much to these islanders as deities and mythical creatures are to believers today. And there’s no proof they don’t exist, especially not when you can feel their wrath. I really wish I could go into more details, but as always, these reviews are spoiler-free.
And of course, it’s always necessary to discuss the antagonists. By Gullstruck Island’s theme, you may have guessed what type of villains you may find. However, what really stuck with me here was how frighteningly real Hardinge’s villains were here. Not mythical, immortal, impressive or anything like that. No, the villains are the indifferent men and women, the angry mob, the man who never thinks of an ethnic group as people, and a woman who can play with some children and then not hesitate to murder other. If you think no villain can top the amount of hate that Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter-series amassed, you’ll find her match in Gullstruck Island (and in the opinion of one who hasn’t read the HP books, her ‘better’). There’s a villain with such unspeakable cruelty that it wasn’t the ‘love to hate’ category they would go. No, this villain fits in the ‘I don’t even want you to breathe inside this book’.
So would I recommend this book? With all my heart. Like I’ve made pretty sure throughout this reviewing
(which I’m writing while I’m still devastated) that this is not a ‘light’ read. This isn’t the book you read when you expect to be transported to Narnia. Gullstruck Island is painful, it’ll make you angry and it’ll drink your tears. But it’s also beautifully written and will spark your own imagination, perhaps make you see nature in an entirely different light. Most importantly, it teaches readers of all ages about the horror of hate-crime and genocide.