Review posted February 10, 2010.
Harper, 2009. 568 pages.
The Lost Conspiracy is an amazing work of imagination. Frances Hardinge has created a fantasy world completely unlike any other I've ever read about, yet she makes the whole thing seem real.
There are two peoples on Gullstruck Island, the Cavalcaste and the Lace. They are separated by religious differences and language differences, and the Cavalcaste do not trust the Lace. There is only one Lost among the Lace, the girl Arilou. Her sister Hathin takes care of her, but is not at all sure that she is truly Lost. Arilou has never mastered any language known to Hathin, but she pretends to understand and declare Arilou's wishes and proclamations.
The Lost are important people on the island. They are able to separate their senses from their bodies. So they are used to send messages, to check the weather. They can see without being seen and go anywhere they are needed -- or their senses can.
The author describes the Lost:
Like all Lost, he had been born with his senses loosely tethered to his body, like a hook on a fishing line. He could let them out, then reel them in and remember all the places his mind had visited meanwhile. Most Lost could move their senses independently, like snails' eyes on stalks. Indeed, a gifted Lost might feel the grass under their knees, taste the peach in your hand, overhear a conversation in the next village, and smell cooking in the next town, all while watching barracudas dapple and fflit around a shipwreck ten miles out to sea.
Then comes a terrible day when all the Lost on Gullstruck Island suddenly die -- all except Arilou. Hathin fears that means Arilou is not really Lost, just an imbecile. But people decide that the Lace are to blame, and Arilou must be the mastermind behind it all. Hathin must get Arilou to safety, if she can find any such place.
This is a dark story, with lots of death and revenge-seeking. It's also a mystery -- Why did the Lost die, and who killed them? It's an adventure story as Hathin tries to protect Arilou. It has many humorous parts along the way. And it's an amazingly imaginative story, as we discover a multitude of fantastic details about that other world. It seems so real, yet completely different from our own world.
This book is a work of genius, all woven together with intricate imaginative details. The darkness of the story kept it from quite winning my heart, but my imagination was interested enough that I definitely wanted to find out what happened.