Monday, January 16, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill


On Sacrifice Day every year, the elders of the Protectorate visits the home of the newest newborn baby, takes it from its willing parents, and leaves it as an offering in the same spot in the forest. It is a ritual that, the Protectorate and all the townspeople believe will keep them safe from the witch who lives in the forest.

Meantime, the witch who lives in the forest prepares to go to the same spot she goes to every year to rescue the baby that has been left there. Not fully understanding why the babies has been left, she nevertheless find a new home for them away from the Protectorate. Then, one year, the ritual is interrupted. First, the mother of the sacrifice baby has a fierce love for her new daughter, and doesn't want to relinquish it to the elders. When they take it anyway, she is so distraught, she went mad wand was locked away in a high tower, living under the perhaps too watchful eye of Sister Ignatia.

Meanwhile, the witch, Xan, found the baby in the usual spot. But this baby was different, she had a crescent moon on her forehead, just like her mother had, and it was that such people were special. Xan finds herself rather enchanted by this baby and delays returning to her home so long she runs out of food and is forced to feed her gossamer threads of starlight. But when the moon rose, Xan didn't notice she has feed the baby moonlight and had enmagicked her. Xan names the baby Luna, and decides to her her grandmother.

Luna and Xan lived happily in the witch's home along with Glerk, the ancient bog monster and Fryrian, a tiny dragon, until Luna approached age 13. The witch had already started to feel her age and her magic was weakening, but Luna, who didn't know she had been enmagicked, had magical abilities that were totally out of control.

Back in the Protectorate, a young Protectorate-in-training and nephew of the Grand Elder, Antain, has decided to put an end to the Day of Sacrifice. He has been haunted by what happened when Luna was taken from her mother, and since his baby is the next sacrifice, he makes a plan to hide in the forest on Sacrifice Day to kill the witch. Luna's-grief stricken mother has remained locked up in a tower, but now she manages to escape, convinced that her daughter is alive somewhere in the forest. Luna, afraid something has happened to Xan, who has gone to pick up that years baby, decides to follow her through the forest. How this all plays out is the stuff of great middle grade fantasy.

I began reading The Girl Who Drank the Moon and simply could not put it down. It was just that good.  There are all kinds of twists and turns, secrets and truths, questions and delayed answers, but it all plays out so well. Luna is a charming preadolescent going through all the usual changes but complicated by her being enmagicked and not knowing it.

Xan is a wonderful grandmotherly character, so misunderstood by the people in the Protectorate. But now she is getting on in years, more than 500 hundred years old now, and her memory isn't what it used to be, which leads so some to the plot twists in the story, and she just hasn't much gotten around to dealing with Luna's magic, a big complication.

While all the right fantasy tropes are here, right down to the seven league boots, and the tale as a whole has the feel of a favorite old classic. The story of Luna and Xan is framed by a narrator telling it to a child, and seamlessly interrupting the flow of the story to make a point or two for the benefit of the readers (and her young listener). It is somewhat of a dark, sinister story, particularly the part about Luna's birth mother, but the darkness is tempered by light moment and humor, particularly from Glerk and Fryian, and Luna's uneducated moments of magic.

I do think that the book could have used a little more editing, some parts are too long, other times there is repetition, but those are minor points. On the other hand, the story is original, the writing is energetically intimate, and yet conversational at the same time, and the narrator is so very very wonderfully unreliable. Primary and secondary characters form an intriguing cast of characters, and the themes of family and love never gets lost.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon proves to be wonderful book for fantasy fans, or anyone else looking for a darn good read.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Algonquin Books

1 comment:

  1. This was one of my favourite books that I read in 2016. I enjoyed it for all the same reasons you did.


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