I found this book on a library list of notable middle grade books for 2011, and I loved the cover, so I picked it up. I’m glad I did. It turned out to be one of my favorite adventures of this year.
The book opens with Trei on his way to the Floating Islands. His family has recently been buried in a volcanic eruption and his kin in Tolounn, the country of his birth, have turned him away. So he’s searching out his mother’s brother in the Islands where she was raised. As he draws near, he catches sight of the kajuraihi, the Island men who use dragon magic (the same magic that holds up the Islands) to fly, and he knows immediately that he must become one of them. He must fly!
Meanwhile, Trei’s cousin Araenè is rebelling against the limited freedom given to girls within Island culture. Well-bred women should never go out unescorted, may only become wives and mothers, and are expected to spend their lives doing needlework and gossiping politely. But Araenè has a gift for the culinary arts (try to read this one without visiting the sweet shop!) and a rising tide of magic within her.
Then Tolounn wages war against the tiny Island country. Trei must determine where his true loyalties lie, and Araenè must make some difficult choices about her future.
This is a fun read: dragons, magic, and plenty of excitement. Araenè has a habit of dressing as a boy and sneaking off, so we’re lead all over the city—through narrow cobbled alleyways with second stories meeting overhead, to the University campus, to the tall, spindly towers overlooking the ocean far below. Trei takes us soaring through the clouds, turning somersaults and floating on warm currents. And the hidden Mage school is particularly enjoyable. It shifts location in the city constantly, the rooms reconfigure themselves, and doors open in empty walls and lead to who-know-where. The book is perfectly clean, it’s written in a pretty, lyrical style, the characters are likeable, the setting gorgeous, and the children’s problems believable.
But I have three complaints. First, the fairly important character of Prince Ceirfei is altogether too perfect. A few rough edges would benefit him. Second, the author does just a bit too much explaining in those moments when we should be left to exclaim “ah-ha!” on our own. And last, I couldn’t pronounce a single name in the book: Araenè Naseida, Hiraisi Tegana, Anerii Pencara, Tenarii Hanerè… I’d recommend writing them down as you go. I didn’t, and I never really did sort everyone out. Oh, and don’t read it out loud unless you plan to do a lot of fudging!
Speaking of fudge, The Floating Islands is plenty sweet for any palette and quite literally offers high-flying excitement. I strongly recommend it.
At 388 pages, I’d probably place this at 10+.
The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier, 2011, Book Review