Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

From the publisher: 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. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers 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 girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge--with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .

Friends, I do not do fantasy. Show me a book with some kind of questing bejeweled lady accompanied by a mythical beast and I will show you my eyes drifting away towards that shiny celebrity memoir over there, or a snack, or a tax form. But a dear friend gave me this book, which was written by a dear friend of hers, and so I gave it a try.

And this book? Is incredible. The thing about me and fantasy is that I have trouble staying connected to a wholly invented world. The setting, the characters, they feel hard to grasp, so when my attention gets diverted from the book (which happens, like, every 10 minutes, because children) I lose my grip and have trouble getting it back. I did *not* have that problem with The Girl Who Drank the Moon. From the first page, there is just something about Barnhill's characters, the way they speak, the way they interact with one another, the way they move within their world, that feels familiar. Xan's immediate connection to Luna... the invisible strands of magic pulling Luna toward her mother against impossible odds... the terrifying concept of a villain who hurts others because she actually FEEDS off of their pain...the seemingly illogical and yet somehow perfect bonds that develop between a swamp monster, a tiny dragon, and a couple of witches and turn them into a family.... I mean, I didn't know I could have feelings of maternal angst toward a dragon named Fyrian, but apparently I can. The book has a real "girl power" theme to it, and not in a trite way; Barnhill examines the everyday magic that connects daughters to mothers, mothers to grandmothers, regardless of biology or origin story.

The language is beautiful. The characters are endearing. The plot elements have a classical fairytale feeling to them, but with a twist: the emphasis, to me, feels less on the story itself and more on who's telling the story. Who defines the narrative? Who controls the magic? Why am I crying?

Anyway. As it turns out, I guess I do fantasy after all. Sometimes.

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