Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 2 May 2023)
Series: The Isles of the Gods – Book One
Length: 456 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
One of Australia’s best young adult fantasy authors, Amie Kaufman, returns with another impressive and captivating read that combines amazing fantasy elements with a great cast of teenage characters in The Isles of the Gods.
Amie Kaufman is an outstanding Australian author who has produced several amazing series over the years. While she has written individual series, such as her Elementals trilogy, Kaufman’s career has been particularly defined by her collaborations with other impressive authors, including Meagan Spooner, with whom she cowrote the Starbound trilogy and Unearthed series, and Jay Kristoff, with whom she cowrote The Illuminae Files series. I best know Kaufman from another series she wrote with Kristoff, the Aurora Cycle trilogy. This outstanding trilogy, which featured the amazing books Aurora Rising, Aurora Burning and Aurora’s End, told a brilliant story about a squad of teenage space peacekeepers as they attempt to save the universe from all manner of dangerous threats. I had a lot of fun with this series, and I have been meaning to read more from both Kaufman and Kristoff for a while. As such, I was very excited when I received a copy of Kaufman’s new young adult fantasy, The Isles of the Gods, and I made sure to read it as soon as I could.
Following a devastating war between the gods that destroyed nations, peace has reigned in the world for five hundred and one years. This peace was hard won, as the aggressive Macean, God of risks, was only brought to heel by the actions of the warrior God Barrica and her followers from the Kingdom of Alinor. The sacrifice of Alinor’s king allowed Barrica to imprison her brother in a deep sleep, one that Macean has been unable to awaken from in half a millennium. With the other gods stepping back from reality, only Macean and Barrica remain in the world, with Barrica serving as eternal sentinel over her brother’s sleep. However, as tensions once again being to rise in the world and Barrica’s power seems to fade, the people of Mellacea, loyal followers of Macean, begin to plot war with Alinor and seek to bring back Macean once again.
Selly is a young and ambitious sailor whose many desires, be they the command of her own ship or of magic, seem always just out of her reach. Trapped by circumstance in the Alinor capital of Kirkpool, Selly plots to sneak away from her controlling ship’s captain and try to reach her father. However, her plans are ruined when she unexpectedly runs into the cocky and flamboyant Prince Leander of Alinor. A powerful magician generally considered a fop by his people, Leander commandeers Selly and her ship for a secret mission to the legendary Isles of the Gods, where Leander needs to perform a ritual which could end the war before it even begins.
As the journey begins, Selly finds herself clashing with the prince, who she sees as spoiled and incapable of taking his responsibilities seriously. But as they continue, they soon find themselves caught in the middle of a disaster. Forces from Mellacea are plotting to start the war, and their first strike destroys the diversionary fleet Leander was supposed to be travelling on. Fleeing from enemies on all fronts, Selly and Leander will need to work with a young scholar to survive and try to achieve their goal. But to win, they’ll need to defeat a dangerous group of killers which includes an ambitious criminal desperate to prove herself to her sister and her god, and one of Leander’s former best friends, who is determined to get revenge. Can Selly and Leander succeed and stop the war, or will the gods once again rise to devastate the world?
Kaufman produces another elaborate and captivating read with The Isles of the Gods, which I had an outstanding time reading. Featuring an excellent new fantasy setting, a powerful young adult narrative, and some absolutely amazing characters, The Isles of the Gods is an epic read that I managed to power through in a few fantastic days.
The Isles of the Gods has an excellent and fast-paced young adult fantasy narrative that is guaranteed to drag you in and keep you hooked the entire way through. Starting off with a bit of useful exposition, especially in a compelling prelude, the main narrative quickly introduces the reader to the five main characters of the story through their specific perspective chapters. While each character has their own specific story, the main plot is practically split into two as three of the characters, Selly, Leander and Keegan, attempt to head to The Isles of the Gods, while the other two characters, Jude and Laskia, are involved in the plot to kill Leander. Kaufman builds up an intriguing and powerful story around these alternate narratives, and the reader is soon caught in the captivating journey across the sea that each of them undertakes. Split into four parts, the story has a good flow to it as all the characters find obstacles to overcome. This includes a nautically focused first part, an intense second part with the protagonists trapped in enemy territory, a short third part which again is strongly nautically based, while the climatic fourth part brings everything together as the reader is engulfed in tragedy and the intriguing conclusion to several character arcs and storylines. Each part of the story is pretty exciting and emotionally powerful the entire way through as the characters engage in their respective quests while trying to deal with their many personal dramas and relationships. There are some very dark moments loaded into the narrative and I deeply appreciated the way that Kaufman slowly teased out revelations about each character ensuring that there was always more for the reader to learn. The Isles of the Gods ends on a very interesting note as every character completes their respective arcs and a new potential chapter of their life is revealed. It is very clear that there is a lot more of this story to go and it will be quite intriguing to see what happens in the author’s next novel.
Kaufman utilised an excellent and easy to enjoy writing style in The Isles of the Gods that complimented the complex narrative and ensured that the reader would get really caught up in all the relevant events. The split of the story around five separate point-of-view characters worked exceedingly well, and I really appreciated seeing multiple sides to the same events, especially as you get the perspective of protagonists, antagonists, and reluctant followers, each of which brings something very different to the story. The short, sharp chapters from multiple perspectives really moves the story along at great pace while also leaving plenty of room to develop the characters and dive into the compelling relationships and issues between each of the protagonists. Kaufman hits a fantastic balance between action, intrigue, humour, world building, romance and character growth throughout The Isles of the Gods, and there was barely a second that wasn’t compelling in its own way. I particularly enjoyed the many scenes set on the water as Kaufman had a lot of fun in a primarily nautical novel. Nautically themed fantasy books aren’t always the easiest of things for an author to pull off, but I felt Kaufman did an outstanding job with it as she crafts multiple outstanding sequences out on the waves which is often enhanced by the character’s use of magic.
As I mentioned above, The Isles of the Gods is a young adult novel, which, thanks to its excellent teenage cast, is focused towards a younger audience. This is one of those young adult novels that will appeal to quite a large audience of readers, especially as Kaufman has featured a lot of mature themes throughout the book, including war, death, sacrifice and finding oneself. Teenage readers will really appreciate the way that Kaufman doesn’t pull any punches with her story and leaves a lot of complex elements for them to get to grips with. At the same time, this more mature content, intriguing new fantasy setting, and complicated characters will ensure that older readers can still have a lot of fun with this novel, and any major fantasy fan will deeply enjoy and appreciate the fantastic story that Kaufman pulled together. As such, I would strongly recommend The Isles of the Gods to a huge range of different readers, and there is really something for everybody here.
Something that always impresses me about Amie Kaufman as an author is the way that she can create new and sophisticated new fantasy realms for each of her excellent series. The Isles of the Gods is a particularly good example of this as Kaufman sets her narrative around a great new fantasy realm with some intriguing backstory and elements to it. I loved the cool history, which involves fallen gods and warring nations, that the author works into the overarching plot perfectly, ensuring that all these intriguing details become quite essential to the main story. The resulting world gets some gets some substantial exploration throughout The Isles of the Gods, and Kaufman takes the time to visit some of the more fascinating and distinctive locales in this world, while leaving the door open for more to be explored in the future. The world itself has a good mixture of steampunk technology and magic to it, and I liked how the authors dives into the mechanics behind both religion and the spirt based elemental magic that was so key to the plot. The recurring focus on sacrifice, which proves to be essential for both magic and the gods, was particularly noteworthy, especially as it results in some powerful moments, and it really made these fantasy elements pop. All this creativity from Kaufman helped to turn The Isles of the Gods into an outstanding read, and I look forward to exploring more of this realm in the future.
One of the big highlights of The Isles of the Gods for me was the exceptional collection of focal characters. The plot of this impressive fantasy novel focuses around five teenagers, each of whom have multiple chapters shown from their perspective. Kaufman develops some amazing and moving character arcs across the book and you really get drawn into the personal stories and the intriguing relationships that form between them.
A large amount of the plot revolves around the characters of Selly and Leander, who form the emotional heart of the book. Selly is a sailor and failed magician who is desperate to escape her current life and finally become the captain she things she deserves. She runs straight into the beacon of overconfidence and charisma that is Leander at the start of the book and their storylines end up intertwined the entire way through. Leander is easily the most entertaining character in the entire book and his fun manner, exceptional magical abilities and ability to charm most people will swiftly have you falling in love with him. This works in great contrast to Selly, who is one of the few people unimpressed with Leander, and the two enter a somewhat antagonistic relationship as they clash on everything. Of course, this eventually leads to a romance (this is young adult fiction after all), but the build up to it works really well. The two characters play off each other perfectly, especially as they call out each other’s flaws and mistakes, and you really grow to enjoy the banter between them. Along the way, the characters both address some of their deeper issues, such as Selly’s failure when it comes to contacting spirits and Leander’s inner fears and guilt which drives him to act so over-the-top. Kaufman works these compelling character issues into the narrative extremely well and it helps the reader to build a stronger attachment to Leander and Selly throughout. Their joint arc ends up being a major highlight of The Isles of the Gods, and it will be interesting to see how Kaufman continues it in the future.
The Isles of the Gods features three other point-of-view characters, each of whom has their own distinctive and compelling story arc. The first of these is Keegan, an Alinorish noble who has run away from his family and responsibilities to try and become a scholar. A former classmate of Leander’s, Keegan is dragged into the adventure inadvertently when Leander charters Selly’s ship on which he is a passenger. Portrayed as asexual and a little antisocial, Keegan is a solid member of the cast who is initially reluctant to help but eventually becomes a firm companion to Selly and Leander. His scholarly knowhow and history with Leander lead to some big moments in the novel, and he is partially responsible for Leander’s growth within the book. Another character with a complex history with Leander is Jude, a noble bastard from Alinor who was also at school with Leander and Keegan. However, he has since moved to Mellacea after an apparent betrayal by Leander and now works for a crime lord. Forced into the plot to kill his former friend, Jude goes through quite a lot of conflict throughout the novel as he finds himself getting dragged deeper and deeper into the chaos against his will while also trying to understand his complex past with Leander. Jude serves as a quite a good alternate perspective within the antagonists’ ranks, showcasing a more conflicted and human view of their actions, and his story added a lot to the plot. The final character is Laskia, who serves as the main antagonist of the story. The younger sister of a notorious Mellacean crime lord, Laskia is an ambitious religious fanatic, desperate to prove herself to her sister and to her god Macean. She leads the conspiracy to kill Leander, and despite her ruthless actions is shown to be troubled and unsure of herself. However, her ambitious and righteous fury continue to drive her on, and she has a powerful and dark arc throughout the novel that really drew me in. Honestly, all five point-of-view characters were pretty exceptional, and it will be very interesting to see how Kaufman continues their storylines in the future.
Amie Kaufman continues to dominate the young adult fantasy scene in a big way with her latest epic book, The Isles of the Gods. This very talented Australian author has produced another amazing and awesome read that blends complex characters, a cool new setting, and an addictive and impressive young adult fantasy narrative, that had me hooked the entire way through. I had such a brilliant time reading The Isles of the Gods and I’m extremely keen to see how Kaufman will continue it in the future. This is an exceptional young adult fantasy novel that you need to check out!