Saturday, July 16, 2016

the girl who drank the moon: stardust arc reviews

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Kelly Barnhill



Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule--but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her--even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.

full review under the cut!  

I received a copy of this book from Algonquin Young Readers and Netgalley, so thanks to them for letting me read this awesome Middle Grade novel. I have never read anything by Kelly Barnhill, but I've heard amazing things about The Witch's Boy, and after reading The Girl Who Drank the Moon, I'm ready to read whatever else she is writing as well! 

This book is odd. And I don't say that meaning that it puzzled me or that I didn't get it, I just truly mean the things that happen in it are odd. But odd is perhaps the best thing that could happen to a book like this. It is a fantasy with witches and dragons and all types of magic, but the way Kelly Barnhill puts these tropes together is something to behold. You've got a dragon who thinks he's big, but is really absolutely tiny, and has the biggest heart in the world. You've got a perceived wicked witch who is really the dearest character in the novel. You've got a swamp monster that would rather quote poetry than terrorize anyone, and you've got TONS of magic, but not all of it wanted, and not all of it is beautiful. I had such a good time with this book, it was subverting my expectations all over the place, and it had a bittersweet ending that was just perfect. 

Basically, this book revolves around a wood that exists in the middle of two societies. One, the Protectorate, is overlaid by constant fog, beset by hardships at every turn, and populated by people who are full of sorrow, just trying to eke out an existence. Every year, the youngest child in their society is left in the woods to appease a witch that no one has seen but everyone fears. On the other side of the wood is the Free Cities, places of prosperity and wealth and happiness. In the middle is the wood, and in the wood lives Xan, a witch. But not a wicked witch. She is rather old (500 years) and rather powerful, but she would never terrorize anyone or anything, rather, she enjoys a peaceful existence with her goats and chickens and her swamp monster and dragon, named Glerk and Fyrian. However, every year Xan goes to the edge of the woods, near the Protectorate, and retrieves the baby that she thinks has been abandoned there. She has no idea that this is a sort of ritual sacrifice, and she takes the child away from the gloom of the Protectorate, feeds it with starlight to make it good and successful, and settles it in a home in the Free Cities, where it will grow up a "Star Child" and have a long and happy life. 

Except for one year, everything goes wrong. For one thing, the mother of the sacrificial child fights the Elders of the Protectorate, and indeed goes mad, trying to save her baby. No one has this kind of fight in the Protectorate, you see, so this is odd indeed. Secondly, a boy named Antain sees the wrongness of the sacrifice, a feeling that will stay with him for thirteen years. And Thirdly, when Xan finds the baby, instead of taking it directly to the free cities, she rather falls in love with it, and accidentally feeds it moonlight instead of starlight, which has a direct magical implication. In other words, the baby becomes enmagicked, which is dangerous because babies can neither comprehend nor control magic. So Xan raises the child, named Luna, as her own, and hides her magic. Until Luna turns thirteen, and the magic begins to come out, the boy named Antain decides to set the world right, and the madwoman becomes not quite as mad as was previously thought. 

Gosh there are so many good things in this book. I love the characters, from Xan to Luna to Antain to Glerk to Fyrian and so on. Even the villains are really great. They're well defined with good motives for doing the evil things. I loved the way magic was portrayed in this book, as something that comes naturally, without complicated spells, because I think that this speaks to the book's middle grade nature. The whole theme of moonlight being magic was really beautiful as well. I loved the theme of family, of a family being something that you can choose, rather than something that you're born with. I loved the ending, although it was very bittersweet, it seemed like a perfect way to conclude the story. 

This book is super magical, and I would recommend it to middle grade readers and adults alike, because the writing is easy to comprehend but not dumbed down, and there is something timeless about the story, like it would be universally appealing. 


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