When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings.
Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself. The only one who fully understands his passion is Araene, his newfound cousin. Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araene has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain.
Trei and Araene quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths. But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands. . . .
Filled with rich language, and told in alternating voices, The Floating Islands is an all-encompassing young adult fantasy read.
You can read an excerpt here.
With an encompassing world, a tangible sense of magic and culture, and two likable leads, The Floating Islands is a light, fresh and engrossing YA fantasy novel.
Neumeier has created an enticing world that reveals itself at the perfect pace, never overwhelming in density or detail, yet still a rich and comprehensive landscape with lovely distinctions between cultural and social spheres. It might not be the first time you’ve read of floating islands and dragon magic, and it definitely won’t be the first time you’ve read about a girl going disguised as a boy, but this book still manages to never feel like familiar territory. With fascinating details such as crystalline eyes and magic wings that would make Icarus weep with envy, mysterious dragons of different elements, and a Hidden School of magery that is constantly changing its location, and whose doors can take you anywhere, The Floating Islands very much creates a world all its own.
The story revolves around two characters, Trei and Araene, both in their own way caught between dueling cultures. Trei is literally caught between two nations, his mixed heritage keeping him from truly belonging to either, and yet he feels a conflicted loyalty towards both; Araene is caught between her abilities and her gender, in a society where women are not supposed to exercise their ambitions, she is both driven by her talent and stifled from exercising it freely. The uncertainty and self doubt at the heart of both arcs is handled deftly and compellingly, as both teens are made outsiders by forces beyond their control, even as both try to build a sense of belonging and struggle to come to terms with who they have become in their new lives. The narrative switches back and forth between these two characters, and the duality seamlessly blends into a comprehensive whole.
However, I did find myself wishing the two had a bit more time together – the first encounter between them was handled wonderfully, with Araene’s resentment of Trei’s intrusion on her life the perfect blend of silent and terse without ever becoming bratty. Their coming to terms with each other is just fun to watch, but the story then quickly separates them and tosses them to separate packs of wolves. Their separation was necessary for the narrative, but it did leave me a bit wistful – their relationship was what drew me into the story, yet it was all too quickly relegated to the background.
Overall I was happy with the larger arc of the plot – the impending war and the pressure it puts on both Trei and Araene, with their determination to contribute to the fight – but some of the smaller details annoyed me from time to time, particularly in Araene’s story. Like the all too convenient tragedy that frees her from family obligations at exactly the right moment – I wish she had actually had to face that family conflict and confront it as opposed to it being swept away by timely plotting. I also was frustrated with how quickly Araene gave up her life-long ambition of becoming a Chef – I really identified with her thrwarted passion, and when her love of cooking just kind of fell by the wayside when another option suddenly appeared, I felt cheated. I was also fairly unimpressed by the somewhat random romance that was tacked rather haphazardly on at the end – it seemed like an afterthought and honestly I thought it kind of unnecessary and unearned.
Still, there was a lovely sense of emotional and cultural conflicts throughout both teens’ arcs, and plenty of difficulties to overcome, both physically and emotionally. There is a real coming of age for both characters, and both play an important role in the penultimate battle. Another of my favorite parts of this book comes at the end, when Trei finally comes to terms with what it means to choose a side and thus betray the other.
And so I enjoyed this book, yet I would have liked more – more culture conflict, more time exploring the different morality of the two warring nations, more time with Araene and Trei together, more of Araene’s struggles with revealing her gender, more of Trei’s relationship with his fellow trainees. The Floating Islands is a complete story with a rich world, but oddly I found myself thinking the narrative was stark in some ways – it didn’t answer everything, and it didn’t go as far as it could have. If this book does become the first of the series (and it undoubtedly oozes series potential), we all have plenty to look forward to.
In the end, The Floating Islands is an engrossing coming of age story, filled with action and emotional authenticity. If you’re a fan of Alison Goodman, definitely check this one out.
Byrt Grade: A-
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
The author delineates complex characters, geographies and societies alike with a dab hand, deftly weaves them all—along with dragons of several sorts, mouthwatering kitchen talk, flashes of humor and a late-blooming romance—into a suspenseful plot and delivers an outstanding tale that is self-contained but full of promise for sequels.
Neumeier has built a fantastically detailed universe – complete with a map in the front of the book – and deftly weaves in history lessons for both the Islands and Tolounn, along with a real sense of social and military protocol. All in all, this book is a lot of fun, and I hope there will be a sequel.