Skip to content

Cybils YASF Finalist Review: The Isles of the Gods

I’m back, and it really has been a while. I feel like the last time I did a post here was after last year’s Cybils Awards. I’ve truly been neglectful in terms of writing in-depth book posts, though I have been making some occasional brief notes on Goodreads. There are Reasons for this, mostly related to being burned out and overcommitted, but also the spouse is working on a PhD and that’s been taking over our lives for the past couple of years.

ANYWAY! I always make detailed notes when I’m judging titles for the Cybils, and there were, as always, a few real standouts among the finalists for me–one of those was The Isles of the Gods by Amie Kaufman, who has been a Cybils finalist and/or winner in previous years’ contests. Her finalist for 2o23 was honestly one of my favorite reads of last year, even before it made the finalist list–who doesn’t enjoy a rollicking sea adventure full of magic and mayhem? Selly, while waiting for her father to return from a sea voyage, learns that the ship she’s apprenticed on has been co-opted for a secret mission to get the wayward Prince Leander–who is also a powerful magician–to make a sacrifice at the Isles of the Gods. He has to make the sacrifice in order to maintain the protection of Alinor’s patron deity, but he’s just a little late…and now, the neighboring kingdom is ready to take advantage and destroy the long-held balance of power–and possibly the world.

The world-building is terrific, and I’m not doing it justice with the above summary. The depth of detail in the world and its rules–along with a series of well-drawn main characters–made this book a standout for me, in addition to the nonstop tension and action. While it is, in some ways, a very classic fantasy, I thought it was particularly well-written, with plenty to make it unique. There are multiple POV characters from various sides of the conflict, each of whom is facing their own individual dilemmas and challenges and moral choices, and it feels in a way like there’s “something for everyone” with respect to the diversity of narrators. (Having said that, for readers who don’t like having more than one or two narrators, this might NOT be for them.)

The primary narrator, Selly, is inherently appealing and empowering, with her adventuresome life as a sailor, and the personal stakes for her are satisfyingly high—wanting to find her father, wanting to be seen as something more, fearing that she is powerless. Besides being a page-turner, I thought the multiple narrators were handled deftly and each of them carried the story forward while also being interesting in their own right, with their own individual narratives. There was also a lot of variety, interest, and diversity in the world Kaufman depicts, with people of various skin tones, origins, and sexual orientations among the main characters as well as minor characters. In this world setting, these aspects of diversity were accepted rather than problematized, and in my opinion that was done well. I actually read this one twice–once earlier in 2023, and then again in January along with the other finalists, and it held up nicely to a re-read. I’m very eager to read the sequel, which is already available for pre-order.

Source: Dispatches From Wonderland

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reload Image