The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

Holly here again!

Have I said I love my job? Besides working for and amongst the love and hobby of my life right now – books - I’m surrounded by coworkers that are also avid book readers. What this also means is that I have the privilege of hearing about excellent books that I never would’ve otherwise. So when the children’s librarian claims a book to be the best she’s read all year (and she’s read a lot of good ones), you better listen. Because The Lost Conspiracy is just one of those under-the-radar books that deserves any hype and shout-outs it can get.

The Lost are special, rare people who are born with the ability to send their senses away from their body, like dust carried by the wind. They essentially control Gullstruck; bringing tributes to towns and acting as the communication network for the volcano-laden island.

The Lace are the native brown-skinned islanders of Gullstruck. Decades ago when the Calvalcaste invaded the island, claimed it as a sanctuary for the ashes of their dead, and built cities on top of their sacred temples, the Lace fought back by human-sacrificing the colonizers. As punishment they were banished to the Coast and the Caves of the Hollow Beasts where food was scarce and shelter from the daily jungle rains was negligible.

Twelve-year-old Hathin is the invisible attendant to her sister, the Lady Lost Arilou. Though Arilou, as the only Lace Lost and supplier of much-needed food and provisions to Hollow Beasts village, she is not the prophetess and oracle a Lost is supposed to be. She seems to speak only gibberish and requires Hathin to attend to her every physical need as well as act as her “translator”. What is not known is how much Hathin actually understands and how much Arilou can comprehend. When the Lost Inspector Skein and his assistant Minchard Prox show up for Arilou’s Lost testing, Hathin couldn’t feel more helpless. How will Arilou pass the tests if she cannot speak coherently? With the life of her village at stake Hathin must find a way to keep the fraud a secret. But even as Hathin’s plan unfolds, she’s unknowingly caught up in a murderous island-wide conspiracy which points to her and her people. On the run and with no one to turn to, Hathin must find the determination to go over volcano and mountain and do absolutely anything and everything to protect Arilou.

I still can’t get over what an odd but inventive fantasy The Lost Conspiracy was. Not only that but the writing is singularly poetic and deeply-laden with meaning it’s difficult to find many YA novels that compare. It takes more than a few pages to find your bearings in this fully-lit world and metaphoric-heavy writing (I had to use my 100-page rule) but once you do it sweeps you off your feet and rather than getting lost in the complex world of peoples, languages, and politics; an entire personified physical world; the changing third-person narrative; and the sometimes distractingly poetic language with which it’s written it’s swept you off your feet and 576 pages feels like nothing. This doesn’t represent the book justly as a whole but here’s a small taste of what I mean:
The winds shifted again, the ashen clouds puckered and plummeted, and everyone glimpsed something enormous plunging through the valley and the town below: sleek, gray-brown, and muscular like an enormous serpent, its back strewn with timber and trees that it did not notice. Not fire but water, a dragon of scalding, murky, terrible water. As they watched, chunks of slope below them vanished as though bitten away by a vast, invisible maw. Bite after bite, working its way up the slope…
See what I mean? Frances Hardinge is both intimidatingly brilliant and limitlessly imaginative. This book is not capable of being hated. You’ll either love it or it will simply not be your cup of tea. I adored it, not only for what I already mentioned but because of the characterizations. Hathin grows so much and learns how to make her life what she wants it to be. Sorrow, the white volcano; the King of Fans, her tall neighboring mountain; Lord Spearhead (another volcano) and other topical features also become dear characters that have a larger role to play in the story than the usual mountain or volcano. I even came to enjoy the confusing dialects (such as Doorsy) and the many tribes and people such as the Sours. The bounty hunters called Ashwalkers – who literally gain power from wearing their victim’s ashes - were again, pure brilliance. Loved, loved, loved this book! These images will stay with me for a long time.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Young Adult and Kids Books Central review
School Library Journal review

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