Review: The Island of Excess Love by Francesca Lia Black

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Title: The Island of Excess Love
Author: Francesca Lia Black
Genre: young adult, retellings, supernatural
Series: Love in the Time of Global Warming #2
Pages: 224
Published: August 26 2014
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 4/5

Pen has lost her parents. She’s lost her eye. But she has fought Kronen; she has won back her fragile friends and her beloved brother. Now Pen, Hex, Ash, Ez, and Venice are living in the pink house by the sea, getting by on hard work, companionship, and dreams. Until the day a foreboding ship appears in the harbor across from their home. As soon as the ship arrives, they all start having strange visions of destruction and violence. Trance-like, they head for the ship and their new battles begin.

This companion to Love in the Time of Global Warming follows Pen as she searches for love among the ruins, this time using Virgil’s epic Aeneid as her guide. A powerful and stunning book filled with Francesca Lia Block’s beautiful language and inspiring characters.

There's a lot to take away from finishing a Francesca Lia Black novel, but most often I find myself impressed with her imagination and the dream-like quality of her writing. Both aspects of her storytelling style are distinct and memorable and make for a wholly original reading experience. When you read a Francesca Lia Black novel, they are among the first and last things you notice. For me, that makes reading her novels both fascinating and hard to review critically. Updating and changing the Aeneid for a modern-ish retelling with LGBTA teen characters isn't something that just any author would try and only FLB could pull it off with such aplomb.

For all that I can enjoy and appreciate the author's unique style and diverse cast of characters, I never really connected to Pen or Hex or Ez or anyone else in this book. It's partly due to how short the novel is, and to the distant way the author writes each of them. I know how Pen thinks and feels as the narrator and main character, but I never had that sort of familiarity or knowledge of any of the side characters. They're more names with attributes attached (that one is a singer, this one is an artist) than real people. They never evolved into fully-fledged characters for me. 

The imagery and writing are meshed together well, but the book also meanders for a while. It's nowhere near as fast-paced as Love in the Time of Global Warming, and it can feel/read directionless for the first part. And as much as I enjoy Block's writing and originality, there were several plot points I could not enjoy (like the baby, the cheating, etc.) and which detracted from both the story and the characters. I found the latter issue especially out of character for who we've seen Pen become in these two books. It was a disappointing inclusion.

The Island of Excess Love is a vividly-rendered story, with great writing and an unusual cast. It's full of monsters and madness, and Francesca Lia Block is just the author to pull off such a gamble.

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