Five teenagers, spread across two rival countries, each have a story to tell in The Isles of the Gods, the first book in a fantasy duology from Australian author Amie Kaufman.
Selly is an Alinorish sailor whose magician’s marks never matured, leaving her without the ability to communicate with elemental spirits. Alinor’s Prince Leander knows that he should have fulfilled his royal obligation—sailing to the Isles of the Gods to make an important sacrifice—a year ago, but he delayed making the journey for reasons of his own. In neighboring Mellacea, Laskia will do anything to convince her older sister, Ruby, the head of a bustling but illicit business empire, that she’s not a little kid anymore. And while Jude needs to stay in Ruby’s favor to keep his sick mother alive, Keegan is desperate for the chance to study at the world-renowned Bibliotek. All the while, Alinor’s goddess, Barrica the Sentinel, keeps watch over her twin brother, Macean the Gambler, god of Mellacea, for if he wakes, war between their lands is all but inevitable.
Fantasy readers who favor fast-paced, intricate plots will find much to love here, including a multitude of characters and settings, explorations of the intersections between religion and politics, a proliferation of scheming and counter-scheming, a healthy dose of moral ambiguity and plenty of action, including some intense moments of violence. A budding romance between initial enemies leads to zesty sparks, and unexpected friendships form among teens with contrasting social identities (the popular party kid, the nerdy bookworm).
Kaufman builds her world gradually, trusting readers to put its myriad parts together as her characters’ paths intersect. Automobiles exist side by side with playful water spirits, gods walk among and communicate directly with mortals, and nightclubs, marketplaces and ship’s decks can all be places where the extraordinary can happen.
Readers left bereft by the novel’s ending and in dire need of its planned sequel are advised to reread the prologue, set 501 years before the story’s main events. In just eight pages, Kaufman offers up a vivid warning about the most dreaded outcome of her novel’s human hostilities: a war between the gods.