As the apprentice to Mestra Aronne, 11-year-old Cinzia knows that strength lies in telling the truth. Together, she and Mestra Aronne print avvisi: hand-created newspapers that update the bustling city of Siannerra on the latest news.
When Mestra Aronne announces in an avvisi that the principessa’s brother is stealing money from hardworking citizens, she and Cinzia are dragged to the palazzo to be charged with treason. Cinzia manages to escape, returning to Siannerra with the help of the principessa’s strange but passionate daughter, Elena. Together, they set off to find evidence that Mestra Aronne was telling the truth and save her from jail, with the help of a pirate girl and her gang. Can Cinzia convince the people of Siannerra to help stop censorship in their city?
The first collaboration between New York Times bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp and debut illustrator Sylvia Bi, Ink Girls pulls inspiration from Italian history as it explores the power of truth. The central issue of censorship is the most obvious echo of our modern era, but other subplots—including how city leadership can fail to consider marginalized groups, and how “not every family knows how to be a family”—also make this historical fantasy graphic novel feel fresh and relevant.
Bi excels with spreads of the vast cityscape, and her charming illustrations feature inclusive character designs, though some of the panels are drawn at awkward angles. This shouldn’t be an issue for anything but the more eagle-eyed readers: the plot, pacing and colors are compelling enough to keep the story moving forward.
Although the ending wraps up perhaps too neatly for a book with political themes, there is no doubt that readers will feel inspired. Back matter explains how avvisi actually once existed in Italy, and while the city of Siannerra isn’t real, Nijkamp and Bi hope their fictional girls can provide motivation to improve the real world.
Ink Girls will resonate with readers facing censorship in their own communities, while also delighting those just looking for a historical adventure. Hand this to fans of Netflix’s The Sea Beast or pair with Niki Smith’s The Deep & Dark Blue and Ru Xu’s NewsPrints as stories featuring girl gangs and political intrigue.