The Islands of Chaldea

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
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Captivating fantasy has strong heroine with magical powers.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The titular islands of Chaldea are loosely based on the British Isles, but readers won't learn any history here as it is truly a fantasy world. Still, Diana Wynne Jones' unique and unusual magical world might inspire readers to let their own imaginations run wild.

Positive Messages

Just because you aren't successful in an obvious way doesn't mean you aren't capable of accomplishing a lot. Keep an open mind about the people you've known all your life -- they may surprise you. Follow your instincts when you think you're in a bad situation.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Aileen is insecure about her own abilities, but readers will understand that she has powerful magic before she does herself. Aileen's kind and takes care of her traveling companions even when she doesn't particularly want to, and her friend Ogo's supportive and helpful. 

Violence & Scariness

Some of the fantasy peril is menacing, but it is never truly scary and often ends up being comical. Most readers will be able predict that the bad guys will get their just deserts. A small group of characters is clearly evil and tries to kill Aileen and her friends, and a final battle occurs with some people being done away with, but the violence is not graphic or gratuitous.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Islands of Chaldea the final novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones (Howl's Moving Castle, Earwig and the Witch), published posthumously and completed almost seamlessly by her sister Ursula Jones. The novel is one of Jones' lighter fantasies, with occasional perilous situations -- often comical -- that are easily overcome. It features a strong heroine, Aileen, who transcends her weaknesses and saves the day in a satisfying way. A small group of characters is clearly evil and tries to kill Aileen and her friends, and a battle occurs with some people being done away with, but the violence is not graphic or gratuitous.

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What's the story?

Aileen comes from a long line of magic makers, but her own initiation into magic was a miserable failure -- or so she thinks. The day after her initiation, she and bossy Aunt Beck are called upon by the High King to go on a journey to unite the islands of Chaldea, free a captured prince, and break a longtime curse. Despite the dangers she and her companions face during their sea crossing, Aileen is relieved to leave her failure behind. Things begin to look even brighter when she is adopted by a large, ugly, magical cat, and she begins to tap into powers she didn't realize she had. Traveling though islands that bear a strong resemblance to the British Isles (with fairy folk, magical bards, and various enchanted animals), Aileen learns that nothing and no one is as she expected -- and that's a good thing.

Is it any good?

THE ISLANDS OF CHALDEA has all the flavor of Diana Wynne Jones' best novels. A young magic maker who gradually comes into great power she had no idea she had, people who are not who they appear to be, and a complex plot with unexpected twists, all lead to a highly satisfying conclusion.

Fans of the author will be happy to read this final unexpected addition to Jones' fantasy books, and new readers will find it an easy entry point to her vast and often under-appreciated body of work. Her sister Ursula Jones manages to maintain the author's unique brisk yet fanciful tone with hardly a hiccup. There may be a tad more romance than is usually found in the author's work, but it's a small complaint in an otherwise fun and captivating adventure.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how many fantasy books are part of trilogies or series, but this one stands alone. Which do you prefer? Why?

  • Why do you think fantasy books continue to be so popular? What do you think appeals to kids about made-up worlds?

  • Do you think The Islands of Chaldea would make a good movie? Why?

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