“When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings.
Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself. The only one who fully understands his passion is Araene, his newfound cousin. Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araene has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain.
Trei and Araene quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths. But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands. . . .”
Who are you? If someone were to ask me that question there are books that I would go to, that I would pull down from the shelf, hold out and answer: You’ll find a piece of me in here. The Floating Islands is one of those books.
From the moment I turned the first page there was no question: I had found my way home. I was among characters I loved, in a world I wanted very badly to explore, and reading writing that painted vivid and vibrant pictures, that pulled my strings; writing that was so right to and for me.
“There were a dozen of them – no, Trei saw as they approached: fourteen. Fifteen. They flew as geese fly in the fall, in a formation like a spear point. At first the shape the winged men made was stark as a rune against the empty sky, but as they approached the ship, they broke their formation, wheeled, and circled low. The morning light caught in the feathers of their glorious wings, crimson as blood, except for one man whose wings were black as grief.” [p. 4]
The Floating Islands is told in the alternating voices of Trei and Araene. One of the many strengths of the novel is how well and skillfully it was accomplished and that each was equally captivating. As I read, I never found myself wanting to be done with a chapter, not once did I want to skim or skip ahead to get to the other character. Trei and Araene were both living lives full of heartbreak and discovery, but their individual paths were woven together tightly. What’s more, each chapter built one upon another, assuredly drawing the reader closer to the story’s resolution.
Regarding character more specifically: I wanted to hug Trei and not let him go throughout the entire book, and Araene, well, she reminded me a bit of Tamora Pierce’s Alanna, exhibiting a forthright, courageous nature that won me over in short order. There were several among the supporting cast that helped cement my love for this title in their own way, too. These were people I’d want to meet, I’d want to study with, fly with.
Another strength is the world-building and perhaps for a surprising reason: what is laid out in the story only scratches the surface of the Floating Islands. Araene walks the streets of Second and Third City, and you just know that if she were to turn down this alley rather than that one she’d find something remarkable. There was a strong dose of history and culture, and the scent of enticing foods wafted on the air; I was satisfied completely with what I found on the page, but appreciated that there was still so much I could learn about the Islands, the kajuraihi (winged fliers), and the hidden school.
So what does that leave? The pace. I raced through this novel – though not so quickly as to not enjoy each word – and only hit one small lull where the story slowed a bit. Beyond that the only thing I can say is that I loved this book, that I will re-read it over and again, and that it has found a permanent spot on my keeper shelf.
Should you read The Floating Islands and, further, Rachel Neumeier’s other novels? Yes. Wholeheartedly, yes.