Review – The Islands of Chaldea

The Islands of Chaldea, Middle Grade Fantasy by Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the first half, it looks like many a questing journey story with a load of bumblers in the party. At first, the goal seems fairly tame and the bumblers all seem to be comprised of DWJ character archetypes. The main character, Aileen, is a no-nonsense young girl who believes she has none of the magical talent that she’s expected to have by birthright. Her mentor Aunt Beck takes “no-nonsense” to an insane degree, basically an authority figure who feels love but generally shows scary discipline. There are two boys the main character’s age: Prince Ivar, who is a spoiled brat with no redeeming qualities aside from not actually being evil, and Ogo, the foreign boy who is as sensible as Aileen but ill-treated. Their quest is to follow a sort of prophecy that says they need a Wise Woman and a man from each island to take down the barrier that’s cut off the island Logra from all outside access. Once they do this, they will hopefully find men who were taken hostage years ago, among them the Crown Prince Alisdair and Aileen’s father.

There is a point before the halfway mark where things pick up, and they pick up like a monster truck lifting a mountain. Plot twists abound, some of them quite unexpected, threads start to tie up in preparation for the explosive ending, and the world’s mythology starts to really pay off. After the initial party, each new addition is fun and outside the box. One thing I didn’t see coming that I quite liked was that Aileen had family from her father’s side on the last island before Logra. I loved them. The big family atmosphere reminded me of the Montanas from The Magicians of Caprona, but not in a derivative way.

Wherever the transition to Ursula’s contribution was, I didn’t see it. Entirely seamless. Maybe I could make a guess, but I don’t think I’d even want to. Any posthumous book feels like a gift. A gift that makes you sad. So whenever it needed a little help to get finished, I can fully appreciate all of the effort that went into making it look like it didn’t need any help.

Still not up there with Diana Wynne Jones’s mind-blowing books like Archer’s Goon or Dogsbody. But I doubt it was ever intended to be. This is an entertaining fantasy journey through a magical version of the British Isles–although Logra is more Mediterranean, thanks to the implications ofMinoan bull worship, water features, and depictions of the food, particularly olives. I loved it, I would read it again maybe. And I don’t tend to reread.

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