Review: The Lost Conspiracy/Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge


August 14, 2012 by Heidi

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge book coverGullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge book cover

Title: The Lost Conspiracy (US) or Gullstruck Island (UK) [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Frances Hardinge [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Stand alone novel (!!)
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: January 2nd, 2009 by MacMillan Children’s Books
Format: Hardcover; 512 pages
Source: Borrowed from Catie

On Gullstruck Island the volcanoes quarrel, beetles sing danger and occasionally a Lost is born . . . “In the village of the Hollow Beasts live two sisters. Arilou is a Lost – a child with the power to depart her body and mind-fly with the winds – and Hathin is her helper. Together they hide a dangerous secret. Until sinister events threaten to uncover it. With a blue-skinned hunter on their trail and a dreadlocked warrior beside them, they must escape. Can the fate of two children decide the future of Gullstruck Island?

Discover a dazzling world, a breathtaking heroine . . . and an incredible adventure. For on the island of Gullstruck nothing is exactly as it seems

With a cast of larger-than-life characters, this is a richly imagined adventure no child will be able to put down – or ever forget.

Okay I just had to include both of the US and UK covers here because I think the US title of The Lost Conspiracy is better, but I love this paperback cover of Gullstruck Island.  Of course, since the copy I actually read is the hardback UK version, there’s all sorts of misrepresentation here, but you get the idea.

Frances Hardinge’s Twitter profile describes her “Writer of downright odd children’s books. Hobbies include travelling, dressing in period costume and scuba diving. Addicted to volcanoes and trying new things.”  And from reading The Lost Conspiracy, I have to surmise that all of this is true.  The Lost Conspiracy certainly is downright odd, but it is also downright original, downright adventurous, and downright wonderful.  Not to mention it is full of volcanoes and trying new things for both those characters involved and those who read it.

Because The Lost Conspiracy is so completely unique, I almost don’t know where to start in talking about it.  I want all of you to almost pick it up blind, knowing nothing but that you will (probably) love it, and please if you have the wherewithal to do so, go ahead and leave to pick it up now.  For those of you who like to see me blather on and drool a bit on my shoes when it comes to book evangelizing, read on!

The Lost Conspiracy in its most primal form tells the story of two sisters, one who was born among the chosen few, and one who was born to be invisible and serve.  Both were born Lace.  The Lace are the native peoples of Gullstruck Island who have resided there since time immemorial, long before others came to the island.  When those others came, seeking to turn the island into a home for their dead, the Lace were pushed to the coasts, treated like an infestation and forever regarded with prejudice and fear.  The Lace are a people unlike any other.  They smile all of the time, and do not quite understand the expressions of others.  Their names are created to imitate the sounds of nature, so as not to draw attention from the volcanoes they live near–surely they will not look upon you if they hear only bird calls or water songs.  The Lace burn their dead, and scatter their ashes to the wind, forgetting the names of those gone before them and never ever writing them down.

Of course, their culture is in stark contrast to the rest of the island, those who remember their dead and honor them before the living.  These people carve out the best lands for their dead, so that they may have comfort in the afterlife, and towns slowly die from the inside out as the plots of the dead grow and the homes of the living must uproot.  Neither culture can understand the other, and it is true that we always fear what we cannot understand.

The Lost are a people unto themselves, rarely born, they are the messaging system of Gullstruck Island.  The Lost can unhinge their senses from their body and set them afloat, informing  on coming storms, lost goats, and passing messages from one coast to the other.  Arilou was born Lost, or at least, the Hollow Beasts tribe would like to think as much as the notoriety and respect granted from having a Lost in their midst is too precious to overlook.  The reality, however, is no one is quite sure if Arilou is really Lost, or merely wander-witted.  Hathin was born solely for the purpose of acting as Arilou’s interpreter.  It is her responsibility to make sure that no one ever doubts Arilou’s abilities–but how can she fool the island when she is unsure herself?

The Lost Conspiracy isn’t the story of a chosen one.  If anything, it’s the story of a girl who was chosen for nothing, believed to be nothing, and treated like nothing until she became everything and these weaknesses bore her strength.  Hathin has made her way into the ranks of my favorite female leads by being completely blind to her own strengths, but unyielding to what anyone else would deem her fate.  Hathin is four feet of courage, she is part pirate, she has a frighteningly audacious spirit who will take her over, and yet she is completely forgettable to everyone.  Anyone in The Lost Conspiracy save Frances Hardinge would have you believe this is Arilou’s tale, and perhaps that really is the conspiracy.

Each and every character in The Lost Conspiracy is so strong, even those we hardly know we get to feel so completely.  We know what certain characters have been through in the way that Hathin relates to them, we see those who could be more, and those who are looking for a challenge.  I also kid you not when I state that one of the villains was the most infuriatingly evil antagonist I have encountered since Dolores Umbridge.  Frances Hardinge allows us to see into the minds of the villains, but the fact that the depth of The Lost Conspiracy remains a complete mystery is a testament to the adept hand with which this story is created.  I could happily expound upon my favorite characters, but I feel even revealing their names in tandem with my final thoughts could potentially spoil the journey, and so I will leave it here.

The Lost Conspiracy isn’t just a darn good story, it’s a story that can open your mind and change the way you approach life.  It will ask you to question the meaning of stories, acknowledge the importance of understanding one another, understanding yourself, and knowing what you need from life.  It is a story of stories in which we get to wonder how much of what is made up just might be true, and how much is really just conspiracy.  The Lost Conspiracy exists so that when you pass the point where the stories end, you will know you can go on.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  Is it terrible that my first reaction upon seeing a picture of Frances Hardinge was to think ‘Oh thank goodness, she’s young!’ because that means she has that much longer that she’ll probably be writing?  If so, I’m not sure I care, I’m just happy for moar Hardinge.

Recommended for: Any fantasy lover who too is addicted to volcanoes and trying new things.

Get a second opinion:
The Readadventurer – “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.”
The Book Harbinger – “Frances Hardinge is both intimidatingly brilliant and limitlessly imaginative.”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “One word to describe this book? Brilliant.”


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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.