A young girl raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon must unlock the dangerous magic buried deep inside her in this epic coming-of-age fairy tale from the highly acclaimed author of The Witch's Boy. 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 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. When Luna approaches her 13th 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. The acclaimed author of The Witch's Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.
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Fyrian, the tiny dragon, because the narrator does such a fine job of creating his voice. But all of the characters are wonderful.
What about Christina Moore’s performance did you like?
She excells at capturing the different characters. I particularly enjoyed her hilarious portrayal of Fyrian, the dragon small enough to fit into Luna's pocket.
Any additional comments?
I am 75 years old and a retired college English professor. This book is intended for middle school readers, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. The narration is first rate and the story is filled with mythic themes.
Swamp Poetry, Love Magic, Sorrow Eating and Change
"The weight of moonlight--sticky and sweet--gathered on her fingertips. It poured from her hands into her grandmother's mouth and shivered through her grandmother's body. The old woman's cheeks began to flush. The moonlight radiated through Luna's own skin, too, setting her bones aglow."
Kelly Barnhill writes a lot of that kind of sensual, emotional, and poetic fantasy in her YA fairy tale novel The Girl Who Drank the Moon (2016). As the book begins, a mother tells her child about the wicked Witch who lives in the forest eager to destroy the entire Protectorate (AKA the City of Sorrows) unless the people sacrifice their youngest child to her each year. The novel then depicts a "Day of Sacrifice" on which the mother of the current child goes mad with grief and rage when the Council of Elders show up to take her baby girl away. Interestingly, the Witch in question, Xan, has no idea why the people of the Protectorate keep abandoning their babies in the forest year after year. But she rescues them from death by exposure and finds them suitable families among the people of the Free Cities on the other side of the forest. This time, however, she falls in love with the baby with the starry black eyes, so she accidentally "enmagicks" the girl by letting her drink her fill of moonlight. Feeling responsible, Xan decides to raise the child as her own granddaughter, calling her Luna. In addition to grandmother Xan, Luna's new family consists of her grandfather, a patient and loving 4-armed Swamp Monster called Glerk who is a Bog, a Poet and, in a sense, the whole world, and her brother Fyrian, a "Perfectly Tiny Dragon" who thinks he's a "Simply Enormous Dragon" and has been in a cute state of arrested development for 500 years. It's a charming modern fairy tale family.
One conflict in the novel arises from infant Luna's inability to control her chaotic magic. Moreover, Xan's own magic is constantly flowing into Luna, leaving the old Witch increasingly drained and aged. Xan will have to do something with Luna and her power soon, but what? There are other conflicts. Not all Barnhill's characters are charming. Luna's biological mother, the madwoman in the Tower, is being imprisoned and studied for her damaged mind and memory by the Sisters of the Star (an order of female warrior scholars), and despite being denied paper, she magically creates paper birds that "massed in great murmurations, expanding and contracting." The leader of the Sisters, Sister Ignatia, savors other people's sorrow a bit too greedily, while Grand Elder Gherland wants to maintain the status quo a bit too greedily.
One of the strong points of the novel is its characters, who are compelling and possess interesting, gradually revealed back-stories (Xan's childhood, for example, was not easy. . . ). Barnhill also works into her fantasy strong themes about magic, memory, time, change, education, sorrow, hope, family, and love. And her rich language makes mundane things magical and magical things sublime, while her wit makes conversations funny. Her writing is a pleasure to read, as in her many--
--sensual descriptions: "The child's scalp smelled of bread dough and clabbering milk."
--neat similes: "She gave him a look as sharp as a blade, and he ran out of the room in a panicked rush, as though he were already bleeding."
--fun lists: "Even when Luna was content, she still was not quiet. She hummed; she gurgled; she babbled; she screeched; she guffawed; she snorted; she yelled."
--moving moments: "Luna's heart was pulled to her grandmother's heart. Was love a compass? Luna's mind was pulled to her grandmother's mind. Was knowledge a magnet?"
--humorous lines: "I hope you will be able to make at least one person grovel today."
--wise lines: "Trusting in invisible things makes them more powerful and wondrous."
--and even some neat swamp poetry by Glerk: "Each sleeping tree dreams green tree dreams; the barren mountain wakes in blossom."
The reader, Christina Moore, has a clear and seasoned American voice for the base narration and does a kind and crusty Xan, a deliberate and swampy Glerk, a convincing pre-teen and teen Luna, a scary Sister Ignatia, a funny crow, and so on. I loved her Fyrian, especially when he sings "Luna Luna Luna Luna" with atonal child fervor.
I did notice some flaws in the novel. First, Luna and her mother's moon-shaped forehead birthmarks are Special Character Overkill. Second, part of the potent movement of the novel is the growth of Luna from baby to teenager, but although Barnhill mentions facial and magical "eruptions" breaking out when Luna nears 13, and there is even a powerful volcano getting ready to blow, the novel avoids menstruation (unlike, say, Jane Yolen's fascinating exploration of that part of a girl's maturing process in "Words of Power" ). Third, a few too many times a few too many characters explain or summarize what's been happening with the sacrificed and rescued babies and the Protectorate's cloud of sorrow etc. Fourth, Barnhill moves into climax mode a bit too early and stays there a bit too long. Fifth, despite Barnhill's pleasurable language and vision, she is writing too much in the current YA trend of short attention spans, manifesting itself in short sentences and short chapters, in her case 48 chapters in the nearly 400-page novel. Finally, for purposes of suspense, at a key point Barnhill makes Antain, a bright and moral young apprentice Elder who'd rather be a carpenter, too dense and unquestioning for his character.
Anyway, The Girl Who Drank the Moon is an impressive fantasy: scary, funny, moving, and magical. Readers who like YA fantasy lacking romantic triangles but possessing plenty of witty and poetic writing and loveable characters and human villains should like the book. (I almost regret another strong point of the novel, that it seems to be a stand-alone work rather than the first in an interminable series.)