Series: The Chronicles of the Black Tulip #1
Published by Walden Pond Press on September 1st 2015
Genres: middle grade, fantasy
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Does the Vanishing Island really exist? And if so, what treasure—or terrible secret—was hidden by its disappearance?
It’s 1599, the Age of Discovery in Europe. But for Bren Owen, growing up in the small town of Map on the coast of Britannia has meant anything but adventure. Enticed by the tales sailors have brought through Map’s port, and inspired by the arcane maps his father creates as a cartographer for the cruel and charismatic map mogul named Rand McNally, Bren is convinced that fame and fortune await him elsewhere. That is, until his repeated attempts to run away land him a punishment worse than death—cleaning up the town vomitorium.
It is there that Bren meets a dying sailor, who gives him a strange gift that hides a hidden message. Cracking the code could lead Bren to a fabled lost treasure that could change his life forever, and that of his widowed father. But to get there he will have to tie his fate to a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map.
Before long, Bren is in greater danger than he ever imagined, and will need the help of an unusual friend named Mouse to survive. Barry Wolverton’s thrilling adventure spans oceans and cultures, brings together the folklore of East and West, and proves that fortune is always a double-edged sword.
I’ve been trying to read as much middle grade as I can this year. I sort of fell off the last few months as I was catching up on ARCs and stuff, but I got The Vanishing Island in the mail unsolicited from Harper, so I thought I would give it a chance. I loved the cover, the East meets West premise, and I am always looking for great books set aboard a ship. Unfortunately I found this book tremendously boring.
Middle grade books are not supposed to be boring.
When I read a middle grade fantasy, I am looking for excitement, escapement, and a great story. I think as this series continues, the story might get great, but this book felt like a whole lot of filler and exposition. The book took forever to get going, and once it did I was still bored.
It’s about a boy named Bren that is struggling with his life and growing pains in his small town of Map. His dad is a cartographer for Rand McNally, but Bren doesn’t want to make maps like his dad, he wants to be the adventurer that needs a map. He tries to stow away on ships and is repeatedly punished, until one day he is given a gift from a dying man that allows him to climb aboard a ship looking for a famed lost treasure.
Once Bren gets on the ship, things get more interesting, but the problem is my lack of attachment to any of the characters. I was supposed to care about Bren and Mouse, and I just didn’t think they had any personality or depth. When bad things happened to them, it felt just like another step in the story to get me to the next point. It felt very systematic and “point a to point b.”
Sometimes I wish story ARCs were shorter, because this book almost felt slow on purpose. How many books is this series, and could it have been condensed into one less? Things I always wonder. I just don’t know if a child that this book is the target audience for would have enough patience to stick this out. If I was bored, isn’t their attention span going to be even harder to hold? I don’t know.
There were things I did like though. I liked the setting, for the most part. I thought the ship was awesome, and the map and diagram in the front of the book was well done. I liked the adults in the story: Otto, the Admiral, etc. And I know most kids picture themselves in the shoes of the main character, but that’s not reason enough for the characters not to have more depth. I don’t know, I was just underwhelmed.
I don’t think I will be continuing this series. There have been a couple of middle grade series I’ve started this year, and I am much more interested in those. This just didn’t do it for me, I’m afraid.