The Islands of Chaldea is a new, stand-alone novel of magic and adventure by the renowned fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones. Almost finished upon her death in 2011, the manuscript was completed by Diana's sister Ursula Jones, an acclaimed novelist and actress.
Aileen comes from a long line of magic makers, and her Aunt Beck is the most powerful magician on Skarr. But Aileen's magic has yet to reveal itself, even though she is old enough and it should have, by now. When Aileen is sent over the sea on a mission for the King, she worries that she'll be useless and in the way. A powerful (but mostly invisible) cat changes all of that—and with every obstacle Aileen faces, she becomes stronger and more confident, until her magic blooms. This stand-alone novel, by the beloved and acclaimed author of such classic fantasy novels as Howl's Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci books, will be welcomed by fans old and new.
◆ A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review ◆
I've been in love with Diana Wynne Jones's writing since picking up Howl's Moving Castle after watching the animated film adaptation by Miyazaki, and I've been looking forward to reading this since learning of its existence. It's everything that I hoped for. If it wasn't late and I wasn't sleep deprived, I would have finished this in one go. The Islands of Chaldea is cute, magical, and all that I want in an MG fantasy!
The premise behind the story is simple and enchanting. Aileen lives in a world with magic, princes, and Guardian creatures. Within this fantastical world, a dark plot is brewing, and a prophecy requires Aileen and her companions to lend their aid in righting the wrongs that have been committed. Along the way, they run into various misadventures, and Aileen learns that she has more strength and power than she thought. It pretty much adopts the standard MG fantasy formula. The magic is in the crafting of the story—how it keeps the plot moving and how it tells us what we need to know with such authority and 'matter of factness' that we take it as it is. It's how the world operates after all. I also love how it's narrated by an older Aileen looking back on this journey and how it ends with her reflecting on the vision of what's to come. It's a heart-touching, beautiful end to the story.
The characters have unique quirks and character traits that make them memorable. There are too many to name all of them, so I'm going to stick to the highlights. For the most part, they remain static except for Aileen, who grows from a girl with low self-esteem to a strong, confident girl capable of taking charge as needed. She still has fears and doubt, but she has embraced who she is, which allows her powers to emerge. She's also a little boy crazy but gradually learns what she truly wants in a partner. Aileen is a character to whom I believe tweens will be able to relate as they adapt to the changes that puberty brings and grow to recognize and embrace their identities. For older readers, we can recognize some of ourselves in Aileen, making this a magical book with the potential to touch readers of all ages. Some other characters that I love include Ogo with his clumsy yet well-meaning, warm personality; Finn with his simple honesty and good humor; and Rees with his dreams (I would have liked to see a little more of him). And how could I forget Plug-Ugly and his wandering ways?
The Islands of Chaldea is a wonderful, inspiring, coming-of-age story filled with magic and a fantastic cast of characters. I recommend this for those looking for a little magic in their lives.
On another note
I'm disappointed that they changed the cover design for The Islands of Chaldea. As lovley as the new cover is (right), I absolutely loved the first one (left). It's cute, whimsical, and most importantly, magical. Plus, I like how it features the shadows of some of the cast members, though it might have been more appropriate to showcase four to represent each island. The new cover doesn't quite capture the magic of the book. I get the impression that it's taking itself a little too seriously. Thoughts?