Title: Lost Children of the Far Islands
Author: Emily Raabe
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction, Folklore, Mythicism, shapeshifting
About The Book:
Twins Gus and Leo live normal lives, so it comes as a complete surprise when their mother becomes mysteriously ill and strange things began to happen around the house. First, they notice peculiar things happening to them (like being able to hold their breath underwater for long periods of time), then their younger sister, Ila (who has never talked) begins to speak for the first time. She uses strange words that sound like warning and are difficult to interpret and when their mother goes into a coma they learn she has given up her health and possibly her life to protect them. They are the last of the Folk (Selkies or seal people) and the only ones who can stop the Dobhar-Chu (the evil King of the Black Lakes) from escaping his island prison.
I picked this book up because of the fabulous cover and honestly, if I had read inside the jacket flap, I probably would have set it back down. Animorphs or shapeshifting––the mythical idea that humans can morph or shift in and out of animal forms, is not one of my favorite themes. However, by time the I realized that’s what the book was all about, I was too immersed in the story to stop reading.
Raabe takes the mythical stories of Selkies and drags them across the Atlantic from Ireland to the coast of Maine. Gus (yes, a girl named Gus), her twin brother Leo, and their little sister Ila are the last of the Folk, humans who are also seals.
However, long before they learn what they are, strange things begin to happen (wolf tracks outside their home, their mother’s night poem, symbols in the dirt) and their home is no longer a safe place. Their father decides to take them to their grandfathers. However, their flight to safety is interrupted by the Bedell, a sometimes sea mink sometimes human creature, who is a messenger for the Morai (their Grandmother who is also Folk), and this is were they learn they are Selkies and end up running away with him.
Oddly, the children running away from their Father seemed more strange and out of character than anything else that happens in this book. What children, who grew up in a safe, loving home, would leave their father (who is trying to protect them) and run away with a minx-man who just appears in their hotel room?
From here on their adventure only grows in intensity and mystery and I very much enjoyed the mythical twists, legends of the Selkies, and other magical animals included in the story.
Overall, the writing is pretty good. There are however, a few hiccups. The author likes to use a lot of facts about animals and the sea in her writing. This works great when this information is coming out of Leo’s mouth (as he is a brain and bookworm). However, sometimes the author breaks voice and narrative to drop these factoids into the story. As true or relevant as they may be, they break up the flow of the story. It is as if you are watching a film and suddenly the screen goes blank, then the narrator says, “Seals, although they may look gentle, are ferocious hunters.” Then the screen flickers, and we are back to the action.
Every shark used has its correct name: mako, tiger, great white, bull, hammerhead, etc. Same with every kind of fish and whale. This is fine during non-dramatic or low-action moments, but I’m sorry, in the heat of battle, whilst being attacked, is it necessary to know exactly what type of shark is attacking? I found that it pulled me out of the action more than helped me visualize it:
“A tiger shark, young enough that its stripes had not yet faded, slammed against Gus, sending her careening helplessly through the water.”
Hmm, yes, that is what I would notice if the shark were attacking me. In the author’s defense, prior to this book she has only written non-fiction, and I do like the idea of mixing fact and fiction. Fantasy books certainly do not have to be devoid of learning, however in this case, it was not done well.
Overall: Three Stars. Great characters, imaginative plot, and excellent use of folklore. If it wasn’t for the factoid encumbered writing and occasional breaks in character, I would give it four stars. I tried to ignore my personal disinterest in shape shifting, and would like to point out that, the fact I kept reading is proof of how much pace and pull the plot truly has.
Warnings: Fair bit of violence (though mostly between animals), there is a death, and certainly some scary moments (wolves, the Dobhar-chu, shark attacks). I did not however, find the book particularly dark, the magic is light and not the least bit creepy.