When I was first planning this blog post, the first Magic Monday book review of 2017, I thought it would be the first book I read this year, Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill. However, I then picked up The Girl Who Drank the Moon by the same author (which I didn’t notice at the time, whoops!)
Hours, pages, and many emotions later, I lowered the back cover and stared at the book for a moment. I’d been expecting an upper middle grade fantasy story akin to a fairy tale, with a good dash of magic and adventure. That is, after all, what the cover and blurb advertise:
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.
If I had to guess, I’d say the bookstore I bought it from mis-shelved it. Except that it’s marked as middle grade elsewhere as well. So not mis-shelved. But definitely not what I was expecting. The story was much deeper and more complex than several YA novels I’ve read recently, with characters that come to life straight off the pages.
The writing is beautiful, the story is tightly woven, and I loved the characters–Luna, Xan, Glerk, Fyrian… Glerk might actually be my favorite–the grumpy swamp monster who enjoys poetry and knows more than he lets on. Fyrian’s flightiness is endearing, too (he’s that cute little dragon on the cover).
The magic in this story isn’t simply magic from moonlight–it’s in the love-madness that brings paper to life and the sorrow suffocating a town and the strength of the ancient protecting the young… And it’s in the stories people tell each other, about the witch in the forest and the volcano beneath it and the wizards who once walked through it. Some stories lie, some stories twist the truth, some stories are painful truth…and some stories are pure truth.
Ultimately this story is about love, hope, and discovering who you are. I highly recommend it for fantasy readers, young and old.
If you’re intrigued, The Girl Who Drank the Moon is available on Amazon, as well as other retailers. You can learn more about Kelly Barnhill through her website. I’m going to hunt down more of her books in hopes they’re as good as the two I’ve read so far!