Opening: “Trei was fourteen the first time he saw the Floating Islands. He had made the whole long voyage south from Rounn in a haze of loss and misery, not really noticing the harbors in which the ship sometimes anchored or the sea between. But here, where both sea and sky lay pearl-gray in the dawn, the wonder of the Floating Islands broke at last into that haze.”
In general, I’m a fan of fantasies with some sort of political component–the Queen’s Thief series (obviously), Leah Cypress’s Mistwood. This is another one of those, except that it’s much subtler. The political aspect is there if you look for it, but it doesn’t ever take over the story.
Instead, the focus is on two cousins, Trei, a half-Island, half-Tolounnese boy who has lost his family, and Araenè, who has never left the Islands but longs for the freedom to study what she wants. Throughout the book, they both struggle to find their place in a world that seems all too likely to deny them their hearts’ desires.
Neumeier has a gift for clear, vivid descriptions, and for creating worlds that seem both plausible and interesting. Here, the Islands have a particular flavor which sets it apart. I loved the fact that Araenè is so focused on the tastes of things, which means that is how she senses magic. It’s a lovely way to think about it and one I haven’t encountered before. The kajuraihi, winged men, who Trei longs to join also add a particular dimension to the story which I enjoyed a lot.
In general, this feels less like a traditional fantasy than City in the Lake did. Which is not to fault City in the Lake–I enjoyed it very much and would heartily recommend it. But I liked seeing what Neumeier did with a different kind of setting. She certainly delivered.
So, I liked story, characters, and setting very much indeed. It felt very solid to me–solid in a way that means the whole thing held together. I was never thrown out of the story by a jarring moment. There was one relationship that I thought developed a little quickly, but I then I felt like this was also a story about people growing up quickly and so it was all right with me.
One of my favorite quotes: “Araenè wondered, caught again between laughter and tears, whether any apprentice before her had ever broken all four of the mages’ rules less than a day after arriving at the school.”
Book source: public library
Book information: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011; YA/upper mg (there’s some mostly off-screen death, but I think upper mg could very easily enjoy this one)