Title: The Floating Island
Author: Elizabeth Haydon
Series: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, Book 1
Paperback: 368 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Long ago, in the Second Age of history, a young Nain explorer by the name of Ven Polypheme traveled much of the known and unknown world, recording his adventures. Recently discovered by archaeologists, a few fragments of his original journals are reproduced in this book. Great care has been taken to reconstruct the parts of the journal that did not survive, so that a whole story can be told…
Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme–known as Ven–is the youngest son of a long line of famous shipwrights. He dreams not of building ships, but of sailing them to far-off lands where magic thrives. Ven gets his chance when he is chosen to direct the Inspection of his family’s latest ship–and sets sail on the journey of a lifetime.
Attacked by fire pirates, lost at sea and near death, Ven is rescued by a passing ship on its way to the Island of Serendair. Thankful to be alive, little does Ven know that the pirate attack–and his subsequent rescue–may not have been an accident. Shadowy figures are hunting for the famed Floating Island, the only source of the mystical Water of Life. They think Ven can lead them to this treasure, and will stop at nothing to get it–even murder.
In a narrative that alternates entries from his journals and drawings from his sketchbooks, Ven begins the famous chronicles of his exciting and exotic adventures–adventures that would later earn him renown as the author of The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World’s Magic.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
This book is just downright fun. I picked it up because Elizabeth Haydon writes an AMAZING adult fantasy series (Symphony of Ages, if you want to look into that), and I wanted to see how her middle grade stands up against that. The answer I found: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme might actually be better than Symphony of Ages.
The Floating Island centers around a 50-year-old “Nain” (literally french for dwarf — very cool wordplay there) named Ven, who is just reaching his majority by his race’s standards. He is the son of a shipmaker and when he goes to inspect his father’s newest ship, he embarks on what seems to be a never-ending adventure full of twists, surprises, and magic. This feels like an old-fashioned, true adventure story to me, and it’s something I would have DEVOURED when I was twelve — mermaids, dwarves, pirates, kings, intrigue, revenants, magic — this book has everything I love about fantasy, and more. Even as an adult, I enjoyed it immensely. It’s well done in that it’s framed as a “true” story and these journals of Ven were recently discovered and gathered and published by the author. The narrative itself is interesting in that it switches between straight-up journal entries told from Ven’s perspective and regular narration. This definitely allowed the story to strike a balance between being fast-paced while also remaining true to the journal idea. The illustrations by Brett Helquist are great and add a lot to the story in terms of being able to imagine everything and giving credence to the journal idea.
My favorite part is how this story focuses on what it means to have a home, what friendship/family truly means, and how our lives are bettered by being surrounded by kind people. This is very much a coming of age story, and Ven is able to find his bravery in order to save his friends and stand up for what he thinks is right. He learns how to find out the truth and speak for himself, instead of just going along with whatever people tell him. It’s a great lesson for kids, especially as they find themselves growing up and also trying to figure out how to make their own decisions and be their own person. (And probably could help adults like myself be reminded of the important things in life.)
I can’t recommend this enough, I loved every second of reading this book and am very much looking forward to the sequel.