Saturday, May 7, 2011
Review: The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier
The moment Trei, a newly orphaned Tolounnese and Islander half-breed, arrives on the Floating Islands to live with his uncle’s family, he is immediately drawn to the kajuraihi, men trained to ride the magicked winds that protect the Islands. As Trei trains to become a kajurai, his cousin Araenè has dreams of her own. She wants to become a chef, but Island women are only supposed to want and run their households.
Tragedy forces Araenè down a completely unexpected path: training to become a mage and learning to use magic. When war-happy Tolounne threatens the Floating Islands with new and frightening technology, Trei, Araenè, and their new respective friends find creative ways to use their new skills to help save the Islands.
It’s no secret how much I love a good well-written high fantasy, one replete with intricate societal customs, political upheavel, and, of course, magic. So I was delighted when THE FLOATING ISLANDS was exactly what I wanted: a captivating and gorgeously written fantasy world.
I don’t think I have the words to describe why I loved Rachel Neumeier’s writing style so much. It’s not “purple prose-y” in that poetic, whimsical, or heartachingly beautiful way that I like in other books; instead, it’s like the perfect prose-prose, uncomplicated diction that paints an astonishingly clear picture of the setting. You see what the characters see without needing to read ten pages of minute description per scene. It’s hard to explain. It just…does the job of descriptive prose exactly right, and that’s why I call it perfect.
Araenè and Trei are wonderful protagonists with curious and unique adventures. I think Araenè will appeal to people who like reading about girls masquerading as boys to do grand things. The type of magic that she learns is fascinating and a feast for the senses, featuring glowing glass spheres, doors that don’t always lead to the same places each tiem, and flavors of spieces and herbs.
Trei’s experience as a kajurai was cool, too, if slightly less well described than Araenè mage-learning. The kajuraihi also brings us Ceirfei, Trei’s friend and fellow kajurai, who is so noble, level-headed, and admirable. Mages and kajuraihi alike contribute to the protection of the Islands in a fascinating set of tense war scenes.
All in all, as a fantasy enthusiast, I loved THE FLOATING ISLANDS. It effortlessly presents to us a different and thoroughly imaged world, yet dumbs nothing down for readers. The ending is satisfying and yet hints at the possibility of a sequel, which I would most happily welcome. Definitely a book I want to reread and that I’ll be recommending to lovers of high fantasy!
Cover discussion: I like how this illustration lends an air of epicness to the book, although I'm not sure how well it will work towards attracting its target audience. Luckily, the subtle cover image, plus the awesome synopsis, sucked me right in!
Knopf Books / Feb. 8, 2011 / Hardcover / 400pp. / $16.99