Review Blog

Nov 07 2019

The deathless girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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Orion Children's Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781510106918.
(Age: Senior secondary) This novel is about Bram Stoker's 'dark sisters.' First person narrator Lillai tells a linear, past tense story. She journeys through medieval settings filled with challenges. Soldiers and marauders pillage and people fight with stakes and knives. There is a Gothic sense of hidden menaces and forbidding castles. Millwood Hargrave's style is descriptive, sometimes florid. Rapid fire similes and metaphors are initially distracting, but many students listening to me read liked the style and the author's tricks of foreshadowing.
This novel is suitable for independent study in senior school and for intertextual analysis. Millwood Hargrave raises several ideas and affirms that women can take control in harsh situations. In the beginning, demonic men kill adult Travellers, burn their homes and capture young Travellers out foraging. We are alerted to women's agency when Lillai says of her twin, 'I was especially proud of the injuries Kizzy inflicted'. The sisters are sold and appraised by a Mistess Malovski, who takes them to a castle owned by Boyar Valcar. His Cook tells their futures, keeping us interested to see if her prophesy, 'I can find no death for you', comes true.
Defiant, the twins are confined in solitary cells for a time, fulfilling our sense of Gothic entrapment. 'I didn't know these places were real', says Lillai. Preparing them for their meeting with Valcar, Malovski shows the sisters how to make bite wine - wine infused with snake venom to improve men's virility. We meet many grotesque men and wonder who Dracula might be.
Cook helps Lillia escape with Mira, whom she starts to love. Lillia and Mira are reunited with other young people, and they try to rescue Kizzy.
As the melodrama unfolds, it's hard to stop reading. While the imperative is to read, not to reflect, there is plenty to say about the ways in which the author presents the strength of female characters and the choices they make at the end.
Chris Bourlioufas

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