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27 August 2009 @ 12:21 am
Still around! And book review.  
Though by still around, what I actually mean is alive, but underslept, over-worked and increasingly prone to bursts of hysterical laughter or song.

I decided to not sign up for hd_holidays this year, and have cheered myself with my list of EXCELLENT reasons as to why this is a good choice. These include:
* Can beta for the masses without feeling desperate anxiety due to non-starting of own story.
* Can actually READ stories in the fest!
* Am leaving a slot that will be filled by someone in the lottery, and given how many talented people have appeared of late, it could be someone spectacular!
* Will have time available to finish a few of the many unfinished stories that haunt my life!
* No feeling of deep guilt through October and November, so if the urge to leap on an aeroplane strikes, I can indulge it!

Bryoney and Cheryl have been giving me looks I can feel across the Pacific, but when they decide they need someone to do a last-minute beta through the middle of their night, they will come around ;-)

Has everyone read sarahtales ' post on women in fiction? It's terrific. Go on, it references Alison Bechdel who is my favourite graphic artist (Dykes to Watch Out For is spectacular) and focusses on the under-representation of women with authentic relationships in fiction.

Which segues neatly into today's book review.

Frances Hardinge is one of my very favourite young adult writers. For her first two novels, I would add the caveat 'of the current generation', but with Gullstruck Island, her third book, it is more true to stop with the first part.

Gullstruck is a colonised island, not unlike most of the colonised islands we are familiar with from history. Here the natives continue much as they ever did, with a thin veneer of what the colonisers believe to be civlisation plastered on top.

There are a few points of difference: the Lost are born nowhere but on Gullstruck. Able to separate their senses from their body and send them out independently, they play a key role in the functioning of the island. They see the storms coming, warn of ambushes, send news where there is no telegraph.

Beautiful Arilou is a Lost. Probably. It's hard to tell as she spends most of her time barely connected to her surroundings. Her sister Hathin is her 'helper'. When she 'translates' for Arilou, she is filling in the words she feels quite certain that Arilou would say, if only her senses were here and now, rather than wherever they are.

Some days Hathin suspects that where Arilou's senses are is right behind Arilou's pretty, vacant face, and that they don't amount to much.

Now a Lost Inspector has come to their village to test Arilou, and Hathin must fake as she has never faked before. But that is only the first of her challenges, and of the disasters that accompany them. For if Arilou is revealed as a fake, the wealth of their village will disappear. But if she is revealed as a Lost, then the forces that are out to attack the Lost will seek to destroy her, too.

I can't tell you any more without giving away plot points that you should read and be startled by yourself. Time and again Hardinge's plot pulled the rug of 'Ah, I know where you're going' out from under my feet, until I took to reading this book without expectation. The breadth of her scope is captivating and pays off at every turn, but it is the world building that is wholly amazing.

Gullstruck's castes and tribes, its politics and religions are all drawn in delicate detail, with information revealed organically, at every point adding to the story rather than just showing the cleverness of the writer. She shows the same skill with the people she chooses to populate the world. Tiny characters who seem present for nothing more than comic effect reveal themselves as people who can change the world through small human acts of courage. Epic figures, who loom large in the mythology of the land, prove to be humble and pragmatic.

Generosity saves lives, and strokes of pens doom them. People are both mobs and heroes, sometimes the self-same people. Throughout it all, Hathin desperately tries to protect her sister, while travelling through a landscape that, while authentically rendered in such a way as to being delight to the reader, is violent and untrustworthy and very capable of killing two lonely girls.

Tired and deranged as I am, I really cannot do justice to Hardinge's book in the short period of time I have available tonight, but if you enjoy Diana Wynne Jones, Russell Hoban or Mark Twain, you will find many things to love about Hardinge's prose, too. It is the sort of book that should be read with your feet up and a cup of tea to hand, as it requires concentration, but it is also the sort of book that will see you sipping the tea so as to not require a loo break and turning off your phone so that you will not be disturbed.

Cheryl Dysondysonrules on August 26th, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
Bryoney and Cheryl have been giving me looks I can feel across the Pacific, but when they decide they need someone to do a last-minute beta through the middle of their night, they will come around ;-)

I'm SO glad you put this in writing. *happy dance of OMG thank you*
You know we will. *grin*
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 26th, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
I am there for you darling!

And if you need a last-minute pinch-hit, I can actually pump out good things in a few days. Just not write to schedule over months ;-)
Cheryl Dysondysonrules on August 26th, 2009 04:16 pm (UTC)

*adds you to the pinch-hit list*

I'm hoping not to have to write three fics like I did for Smoochfest. *pokes drop-outs with a sharp quill*

blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 26th, 2009 04:21 pm (UTC)
Angst, politics, comedy or gen, throw 'em at me. Porn should be thrown elsewhere ;-)
Cheryl Dysondysonrules on August 26th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
You got it, babe. I added you for real. Will you send me your email address? Mine is dysonrules@gmail.com

blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 26th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
blamebrampton at gmail.com
Cheryl Dysondysonrules on August 26th, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)

Hard one, like mine. Thanks! <3
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 26th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
And squishes back while running to shower!
just your everyday tragic heroinetray_la_la on August 27th, 2009 04:56 am (UTC)
Alison Bechdel!!!


that is all. :D
anna_wing on August 27th, 2009 04:56 am (UTC)
I have "Gullstruck Island" but haven't read it yet. "Fly-by-night" and "Verdigris Deep" (out in the US under some other, sillier name, presumably because publishers consider Americans to be merely semi-literate) were splendid, so I'm glad "Gullstruck Island" sounds good too. Hardinge is so wonderfully unpredictable, both in plot and character. I choose new writers by the page 23 test these days (open book at page 23, read the page, decide whether or not to buy it) and it's always nice to find someone whose prose really repays close reading and attention.

Also, good writers willing to write stand-alones are increasingly rare and should be cherished.
shadowclubshadowclub on August 28th, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)
I love beta-ing fics (although my comma usage is a sketchy I can do the other stuff alright)! I avoided most fests this year, but signed up for 2 separate big bangs? I am made of fail.

Ooh, this book sounds very interesting! I am putting it on my to-read list!
oceaxeoceaxe on August 28th, 2009 07:22 am (UTC)
Thanks for this review, I greatly enjoyed her first book (and gave it to my 10-year-old friend), and I will certainly pick this one up.
glass_violet on August 28th, 2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
*is convinced, and puts Frances Hardinge in to-read list*
*glances uneasily at enormous teetering piles of unread books beside the bed*

It might take me a while...

*goes back to editing career_fair and writing hd_500 simultaneously*