The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Algonquin, 2016 386 pages
Luna lives in a small cabin in the wilderness with her grandmother, a swamp monster, and a miniature dragon surrounded by hidden magic and secrets. Luna doesn't know it, but she is really a child from the Protectorate, a closed community who sacrifices a baby yearly to an evil witch for protection. The witch is not aware that she is evil or that the babies are intended as payment to her. Every year Witch Xan saves the baby, nurtures it with moon light and love, and brings it to nearby villages to be adopted. Luna is the sole baby that she keeps. Because of an extra dose of moonlight, Luna develops uncontrollable magical powers. Xan puts a spell on Luna's magic, until she is old enough to handle it. Unfortunately, once Luna's magic emerges, Xan is away and it is up to the swamp monster to help her process her powers, which leads to an adventure. Meanwhile, we see life at the Protectorate; the mother Luna was snatched from, a young man who is destined to become part of the evil government but wants something different, the corrupt old man who holds tightly onto authority no matter what the cost, the abbey of nuns with power in the community and hidden secrets. All of the plot threads come together by book's end, connections are made, and secrets are revealed.
Barnhill, author of the Witch's Boy, as well as other books, has created an classic fantasy with layers. Folks are not who they seem at first glance. Xan is portrayed as the evil witch, but is a very loving character who's life purpose is to help people. The tiny dragon thinks he's "Simply Enormous" living in a land of giants, yet is tiny with stunted growth. The young man being trained for government work secretly longs to be a carpenter and posses a heart too pure for the evil work to which he is destined. The true villain behind the baby snatching is not revealed until book's end, along with the motivation behind this travesty. Magic, gentle humor, mystery, and adventure are all featured in abundance as the story progresses. The book begins with a story being told by mother to child in the first person about the witch in a different font. This story-within-a-story continues throughout the book and is also at the conclusion. My main complaint is my usual one: I felt that the book was a little long. I started to get restless in the middle. The last chapters, where everything comes together and secrets are revealed, was a great payoff, so I really don't mind the time invested, but impatient readers may not make it so far. Also, there were a lot of characters and different settings, which may be a little confusing to some young readers. I would give this book to smart, seasoned readers who enjoy fantasy. For those willing to put in the time, its a great ride!