by Makiia Lucier
Series: Isle of Blood and Stone #1
Published on April 10, 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Ulises asked, "How can I look at these maps, see this riddle, and do nothing? They are my brothers."
Elias reached across the table and flicked aside two shells with a fingertip. The map curled into itself. "It's bound to be a goose chase. You know that?"
"Or a treasure hunt," Ulises countered, "and you've always been good at those."
Nineteen-year-old Elias is a royal explorer, a skilled mapmaker, and the new king of del Mar's oldest friend. Soon he will embark on the adventure of a lifetime, an expedition past the Strait of Cain and into uncharted waters. Nothing stands in his way...until a long-ago tragedy creeps back into the light, threatening all he holds dear.
The people of St. John del Mar have never recovered from the loss of their boy princes, kidnapped eighteen years ago, both presumed dead. But when two maps surface, each bearing the same hidden riddle, troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young heirs? And why do the maps appear to be drawn by Lord Antoni, Elias's father, who vanished on that same fateful day? With the king's beautiful cousin by his side—whether he wants her there or not—Elias will race to solve the riddle of the princes. He will have to use his wits and guard his back. Because some truths are better left buried...and an unknown enemy stalks his every turn.
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I’m so disappointed with myself because despite Isle of Blood and Stone being a well-written, interesting YA fantasy. . . I don’t feel anything for it. Did it excite me? Eh, not really. Did I hate it? No, it was a good book.
This fantasy isn’t a super action-packed adventure, taking a slower pace as the characters attempt to uncover a mystery that was left in the unknown for almost two decades. From a writing standpoint, I couldn’t put my finger on it but it almost felt like a middle grade novel. Yet the main character, Elias, is 19, so the upper end of YA. The combination was interesting and I quite liked it, giving this book a different edge.
The mystery takes over the bulk of the plot and becomes a bit of a Clue game with who committed the crime with the poison in the meadow. But I liked that the story didn’t focus solely on the mystery. There’s a lot about family, a theme strongly supported by Elias’s own family, the kinship between the navigators, the strong bonds between him and his friends, and so on. I think this sends a great message and gave the story the added depth it needed since it did move at a slower pace.
But Elias? He wasn’t exactly memorable. He became less of a multi-faceted character and more of a name on the page. I found I gravitated toward the side characters such as Mercedes, Reyna, and even Commander Aimon. Mercedes is a highly independent young woman who works as a diplomat for her nation and I loved that she not only had a role of power but wasn’t overly “strong” (where the author makes a point to remind you over and over that she’s independent). Reyna is a nine-year-old wannabe navigator and all I could think was that I wanted to know her story because she’s forced to overcome so much because she’s a girl. Even at 9, she had something at stake. And Commander Aimon was a bit aloof but I could see something beyond that, and I wondered who he was before the time of the story.
That said, I did like that the romance subplot was already partially established. Mercedes and Elias grew up together, they have history and early on you can tell there is love there of some kind. But coming in where the story did with their relationship also meant that I didn’t have much time to really develop an interest in the two of them getting together (which affected some of the tenser moments in the book).
But I’m getting nit-picky. Isle of Blood and Stone was a unique read I would recommend to YA readers of all ages. There’s a bit of action, plenty of mystery, strong family vibes, and a well-written cast to fall in love with. The story, though I realize it’s a part of a series, reads well as a standalone with a satisfying ending. Overall, I liked it. I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about this book, but I’d recommend it!