Verdict: An enjoyable, ‘fairytale-esque’ story that is at once exotic and familiar.
The story opens with Isa, a girl on the island of Joya who lives with her cartographer father. The island is being occupied by ‘The Governor’, who comes from Afrik, and has banned travel beyond Joya’s waters and even on other parts of the island, now named the ‘Forgotten Territories’. This latter point is a problem for Isa herself, who yearns to explore the rest of her home island. She is obsessed with its mythological history: it was once a floating island that could travel the seas by itself; it has its own heroine, Arinta, a young girl who heroically faced the fire demon Yote before he could destroy Joya entirely.
Soon, a revolt against the Governor sees Isa taking her own journey to the Forbidden Territories to rescue her best friend, echoing the mythological adventure of Arinta in ways that are both eerie and deadly.
The modern fairy tale setting and voice of the story made for an enjoyable narrative; the placenames of this world slightly twisted from those of our own reality, so it gave you a sense of familiarity even when all else was alien. The themes of friendship, freedom and oppression, and bravery against the odds also ring true, making Ink and Stars a pretty and fun update on the quest stories of old.
That said, whilst I enjoyed the concept, the plot and the ending, some of the characterisation fell flat for me. Isa was given a quietly tragic backstory which worked well with the understated nature of the story; told in first person, you could more easily connect with her and her way of life. The other characters, because of Isa’s first person narrative, were harder to connect with and instead of being mysterious seemed to be two-dimensional, including Lupe, the Governor’s daughter.
Due to my disconnect with Lupe, a character who was largely absent in the book anyway, I found an aspect of the ending to be dissatisfying. As a concept, I liked the idea of the twist, but it lacked the emotional punch I felt it was looking for, from both the reader’s point of view and the characters’ reactions.
Ink and Stars is a fresh, enjoyable and interesting story that is definitely worth a read, but ultimately not the modern classic it could have been.