Book review: “The Floating Island” by Elizabeth Haydon

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The Floating Island
by Elizabeth Haydon
Recommended Ages: 11+

In the first of (so far) three books in a series titled The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, we become acquainted with an unusual member of the dwarf-like race of the Nain. Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme is the youngest son of a family of shipwrights. Each of his older brothers has a respectable beard and the mastery of one specialized area of the ship-building business, from boiling pitch to forging iron. The whole family is unusual compared to most Nain, who prefer to live underground, digging precious stones and metals out of the earth; Ven, as we will see, surpasses even his own family in straying from the Nain norm. But first, as Ven approaches his fiftieth birthday—the cusp of adulthood, in Nain terms—he worries. He worries because he doesn’t have so much as one whisker of a beard. And he worries because his father hasn’t assigned him to a specialized area of the business.

Before he can talk with his father about it, an albatross drops a feather on him—a strange omen. And then, on his first day of eligibility, Ven draws the short straw and wins the responsibility of taking the family’s latest, unchristened ship out under sail, for its final inspection. Naturally, that’s the moment the dreaded Fire Pirates choose to strike. The Fire Pirates are dreaded because they take no prisoners, leave no survivors. Ven realizes that his only chance to save his voyage from total disaster is to send a perfectly good ship to the bottom of the sea. He does so, in a spectacular way. Then he wakes to find himself floating alone on a piece of the wreck. A mermaid—sorry! I mean, a merrow—keeps him afloat until a ship, spotting the albatross circling above him, comes to his rescue. And that is only the beginning of Ven’s adventures.

By the end, he will have twice visited a magical, floating island that can appear out of nowhere and disappear back again, a place where the wind carries news to and from every part of the world. He will have made friends with a sea captain and his innkeeper wife, a pickpocket, a cook’s apprentice, a king, and a ghost. He will have solved the mystery of the fierce beasts that menace travelers along a lonely highway, exorcized an evil spirit that haunts the crossroads and poisons the land around it, and saved a lively new friend from becoming one of the undead. And he will be on his way to a roving, adventure-seeking, looking and listening tour of the world, in the service of a wise youth whose crowned head still yearns to understand magic. Led by the call of the wind, a curiosity about the world, and a zest for adventure that sets him apart from his firm-ground-loving folk, Ven begins what will surely prove to be a thrilling career of heroics, marvels, magic, and danger.

Two more books in this series have come out, so far: The Thief Queen’s Daughter and The Dragon’s Lair. Elizabeth Haydon, meanwhile, has also written six of at least eight projected books in a series called “The Symphony of Ages,” beginning with Rhapsody: Child of Blood and including, most recently, The Assassin King.