Author: Frances Hardinge
Publication Date: 9/1/09
Blurb(GR): Two young sisters who live on a beautiful island soon become caught in a deadly web of deceit. Neither girl is exactly what she pretends to be, and when they are drawn into a sinister conspiracy, one discovers that the only thing more dangerous than the secret she hides is the truth she must uncover.
I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like The Lost Conspiracy. Maybe that’s why this book isn’t very well known: it’s hard to describe, let alone label, package, and sell. This book is just amazing though; it’s like a triple whammy of great writing, fully realized and complex characters, and an amazing story. So seriously, just stop reading this review right now and go get it. Still here? Okay, okay, keep going. But just know that I will be harping on about this book in various and annoying ways until you all break down.
Hathin is the assigned caretaker for her sister, Arilou. This has been her sole, devoted purpose for her entire life. Arilou is thought to be one of the rare “Lost”: a group of people capable of sending their five senses away from their bodies to travel the island. Several hundred years ago, Gullstruck Island was colonized by outsiders, and over the centuries, the customs and traditions of the native people have been taken over or diluted by the pervading culture of the newcomers. The Lace, an extremely close-knit indigenous tribe, is the only remaining population that still remembers the old ways, and the dangerous consequences that will befall those that do not follow them. The rest of the island’s populations view the Lace with suspicion and fear. Their ways are foreign and illogical to the outsiders. There is a dark history that lies between the two groups that keeps the outsiders balanced on a dangerous edge between fear and rage. Arilou is the only Lost to ever be born into the Lace tribe. When a string of tragedies are blamed on the Lace, Hathin finds herself thrown onto the trail of a vast conspiracy. Hathin must escape with Arilou, and find the strength inside herself to lead, despite living in the shadows for her entire life.
The writing is spectacular – she infuses every sentence and paragraph with shadowy, sometimes threatening imagery. This book is darkly atmospheric; even the chapter titles are a bit haunting and they all have hidden meanings. My favorites are “No More Names” and “Death Dance.”
I am so completely impressed by the massive, sweeping scope of the world that she has built in this book. This is one hell of a world! Taking cues from tribal legends and practices from all over the globe (there’s a nice little acknowledgements section at the end), Hardinge creates a living, breathing, sinister place in Gullstruck Island. This is an island where the flora and fauna can unravel your soul, sing you to death, and loosen your senses away. The volcanoes have personalities, and they feud and love and prank. There are mysterious assassins who use cremation dust to give themselves magical powers, and ominous ancient legends that are all based in truth. The Lace are fully alive and meticulously drawn, and they have a hidden strength that no one sees.
Our enemies think that Lace make good victims and scapegoats. They are wrong. They think that they can strike at us and we will do nothing but scatter and hide. They are wrong.
There were only a couple of times where I thought, “how will I keep track of it all?” because for the most part she so effortlessly weaves all this world-building into the story. And what a story! There’s a murder mystery, a revenge quest, and the genocide and enslavement of one group by another. Despite this incredibly foreign (to me) setting, the plight of the Lace is a tale as old as time (unfortunately).
Hathin develops and matures to a staggering degree in this book, and it’s very inspiring. I love the idea of her invisibility and seeming unimportance as strengths. I have to admit, the ending took me by surprise. I was expecting something much darker. I think that the fairy tale quality of this story sneaks up on you. It’s hard to see at first, through all the darkness and tragedy, but this is actually a powerful story of one girl coming into her own.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Bjork – It’s In Our Hands
I think that Bjork, with her unique, bizarre, atmospheric, beautiful sound, is the perfect complement to this book. I had a hard time deciding which one of my many favorites would relate best . But I was eventually drawn to the lyrics (with me, it’s always the lyrics) of It’s In Our Hands.
Look no further
Look no further
I look no
Always to ourselves
It mustn't get
Any better, off
It's in our hands
It always was
It's in our hands
In our hands