Author: Rachel Neumeier
Genre: fantasy, young-adult
Pages: 388 (paperback edition)
Published: February 2011
When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings.
Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself. The only one who fully understands his passion is Araenè, his newfound cousin. Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araenè has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain.
Trei and Araenè quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths. But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands. . . .
Filled with rich language, and told in alternating voices, The Floating Islands is an all-encompassing young adult fantasy read
(Of the two novels by this author that I have read so far, she takes pains to create unique, if somewhat similar, systems of magic for her fantasy worlds.)
~ magic dragons - some of wind and some of fire!
(And both kinds are key to the plot of the story AND the backstory of both the main characters Trei and Araenè. Their respective connections to my favorite mythical beast added to the story.)
~ girls masquerading as boys for the freedom that gender provides
(Araenè is one of the prickliest and grouchiest protagonists I've come across in some time. However the restrictions on her life, due to gender and her society's repression of woman makes it understandable and her sympathetic in her flaws.)
~ dragon-given ability for people to fly with man-made wigs
(They're called kajuraihi - and this one aspect of unique worldbuilding and magic does a lot set this YA fantasy apart. The techniques and history of the society aren't as explained as they could have been - but the mystery of how the sky-mad do what they do works for them.)
~an intriguing setting unlike others I've ever read
(I've read fantasy novels about islands, about avaricious empires, about complex societies and castes, but none that combined all of those in a story about floating islands fighting against a land-bound empire. I love when authors do something new in their genre, and that is exactly the case here.)
~ complex, interesting characters
(And I'm not just talking about Trei and Araenè, either. The novice master, Cerfei, Genrai, Trei's family, etc.; All are reasonably fleshed out - both good and bad aspects. It's a vast improvement over the
~ a creative plot
(involving warring cultures, themes of loss and home, battles of steam technology versus nature, etc. Captivating and just plain fun from start to finish.)
The Floating Islands had a lot going for it. Compulsively readable, intensely unique, and well-written, it's going to easily stand out for fans of fantasy. Fans of Neumeier's previous novels will enjoy it and new fans will find it a promising entrance into the vivid imagination of a prolific and talented author.