Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
If my constant blabbing about Aurora Rising from the past four years should bring you to any conclusion, it’s probably that I’m a massive Amie Kaufman fan. So when I heard that she was making her solo YA debut this year, I was BEYOND excited!! I immediately preordered, and it came right when I’d just finished up my first year of college—the perfect present! And even though I’ll always pick sci-fi over fantasy, if anybody can make a fantasy that I’ll give 5 stars, it’s Amie Kaufman.
Enjoy this week’s review!
The Isles of the Gods (The Isles of the Gods, #1) – Amie Kaufman
Selly has the ocean in her blood.
She’s been tagging along with her father on the high seas since she was a baby, but now, he’s left Selly to her own devices in the port town of Kirkpool. Intent on tracking him down, she tries to set sail, only for her plans to go awry at the hands of Prince Leander, who wants to hitch a ride for his own gain—to seek out the storied Isles of the Gods, where the ruling deities of her world are fabled to be laying in a restless, dormant sleep. But when a disastrous assassination attempt leaves Selly and her crew stranded, she has no choice to trust Leander—and make it to the Isles no matter the cost.
TW/CW: murder, graphic violence, abandonment, assassination, fatal vehicle explosion
From what I can tell, The Isles of the Gods is a book around a decade in the making, a passion project that Amie Kaufman had been crafting relentlessly in between releasing some of her other collaborative novels. So there’s automatically 10 years of love in this novel—and boy, it really did show.
I’ve preferred sci-fi to fantasy for years, but leave it to Amie Kaufman to craft a fresh setting that kept me turning the page for hours! I’m already a sucker for pirates in fantasy, and that aspect was executed with just the right balance of campy fun and nail-biting stakes. And after parsing through all of the rich facets of the world that Kaufman created, it’s left me with one question: what’s keeping authors from creating more industrial/advanced fantasy settings? Consider me done with fantasies with automatically medieval settings, can we do more 1920’s-inspired fantasies that don’t just focus on the jazz age stuff? I didn’t know I could possibly yearn for the melding of magicians and old-timey cars quite this much, but I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again: if anybody can do it, IT’S AMIE KAUFMAN.
Kaufman’s writing, as it always is, was the real star of the show in The Isles of the Gods. There’s something instantly transporting about her prose—from the first sentence, I felt dunked headfirst into this lush, rich world, from the gripping prologue to the delightfully suspenseful final sequence. Maybe this is just a consequence of me being so attached to her writing style, but she has such a way of drawing you into the story in record time. Every book is a little world in and of itself, but hers never cease to feel tangible. Reading fantasies with sea settings are always fun for me, being about as landlocked as you can get here in the U.S., but reading this reminded me of a passage from Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, about the protagonist imagining that the rain pattering against his window at night was waves on the hull of a ship. Good thing it was pouring rain when I was reading this book.
And speaking of Kaufman’s writing—now that I’ve seen her solo and collaborative works, I can say with certainty how clever of a writer she is. She sets up common conflicts that threaten to drag down the book, but whips them into cunningly-subverted left turns that kept me guessing all through the novel. A whole bunch of characters that you *can’t* quite tell apart, but are still personally relevant to the protagonist? Oh look, a botched assassination attempt that gets rid of them! Have a lovable but borderline one-note character who hasn’t had the chance to prove themself? Put that sorry little man in a Situation!™️ It may be diabolical, but it made my enjoyment of the book increase that much more—nothing like trope subversion and avoidance left and right to keep you on your toes.
As for the characters, I’m not quite as attached to them as I was with the squad of the Aurora Cycle, for example, but that’s way too high a bar, even if it’s still Amie Kaufman, but I did adore a lot of them! There was clearly so much love and care put into Selly, and it showed—she had a beautiful arc, and she was such a determined and lovable character to root for. Leander’s type of character—the charming, spoiled prince that the protagonist can’t help but fall for—has been done since time immemorial, but Kaufman’s take on the trope resulted in some lovely laughs and a slow-burn romance done right!
And…yes, I felt a little too called out by Keegan. The “bookworm who hasn’t seen the light of day in way too long” was already there, but…dude. I just shaved my head in January. DUDE. AMIE KAUFMAN, STOP PEEKING INTO MY BRAIN LIKE THAT. YOU COME INTO MY HOUSE, AND YOU MAKE A GENDER-SWAPPED CHARACTER OF ME?
Jude and Laskia (especially the former) didn’t get quite as much page time, but they were incredibly intriguing as not-quite-antagonists, but puppeteering each other and subsequently being puppets to political forces beyond their control. I kept getting hints that Laskia was going to turn to Selly/Leander/Keegan’s side, but now that we’ve seen ✨the cliffhanger,✨ the future is uncertain…hmm. I didn’t quite get the promised “squad” vibe that the blurb promised, but I have a feeling that the two camps are going to merge sooner than later…
Also, we love an absolutely Indiana Jones final sequence. NAILED the fantasy brand of campy.
One sidenote—Amie Kaufman said several times that Isles was going to have LGBTQ+ rep, and all we really got was the lesbian couple that appeared for a total of…maybe three pages? Which, yeah, that’s all well and good, but the question that many readers had about said rep was if any of the protagonists were going to be queer, and…so far, nothing? As much as I loved this book, I can’t help but be a little disappointed on that front.
All in all, a gripping, cinematic, and utterly lovable solo venture from one of my favorite authors. 4.75 stars, rounded up to 5!
The Isles of the Gods is the first in a planned duology, concluding with an unnamed final book slated for release in 2024. Amie Kaufman is also the co-author of the Illuminae Files, the Aurora Cycle (with Jay Kristoff), the Starbound trilogy, and the Other Side of the Sky duology (with Meagan Spooner). On her own, she is the author of the middle grade Elementals trilogy.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
3 thoughts on “Book Review Tuesday (5/16/23) – The Isles of the Gods”
just added it to my tbr!! loved your review btw
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yay!!!! hope you enjoy it as much as I did, it’s a wild ride!!! thanks so much 🏻