The Vanishing Island: The Chronicles of the Black Tulip, Book 1

Book review by
Barbara Lawrence, Common Sense Media
The Vanishing Island: The Chronicles of the Black Tulip, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Gritty high-seas historical fantasy mixes danger and magic.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Although this is historical fantasy, there is ample information about ships, navigation, and ship design during the Age of Discovery. There also is a good glimpse of life in a seaport town during the late 16th century, as well as Holland's role in exploration, trade, and colonization. 

Positive Messages

Even when life is harsh, there are good people who help one another. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Twelve-year-old Bren Owen is a good kid who longs to escape his life of poverty and boredom in the port town of Britannia in late 16th-century Europe. Amid adventure and danger, he always tries to do what's right. He has a strong conscience that for the most part steers him in the right direction. 

Violence

There's ample violence in this historical fantasy that depicts the grittiness of the times. Detailed descriptions of murders, such as a decapitated head rolling down the dinner table and a man swinging from a meat hook, may be too much for sensitive readers. 

Sex
Language

"Bloody" is as rough as the language in this book gets. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

As was common during the Age of Discovery, many characters drink and alcohol is often present. At a time when water wasn't always safe, all sorts of fermented and distilled beverages are consumed, including cabbage wine, whiskey, and a daily ration to all sailors of a distilled white lightning called "Jenny." A wry twist about the negative effects of alcohol is that Bren's dismal job before he sets sail is working in a vomitorium, cleaning up after men who have over-imbibed. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton (Neversink) is full of adventure touched with magic and fantasy, but the gritty depictions of fights and murder (such as a decapitated head rolling down the dinner table and a man swinging from a meat hook) may be too graphic for some readers. This "alternate history" shows the harsh reality of life aboard a sailing vessel in 1599 during the Age of Discovery, as 12-year-old Bret Owen searches for adventure and fortune -- but it may be too much Game of Thrones-like reality for younger tweens or sensitive readers. 

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What's the story?

Twelve-year-old Bren Owen longs for adventure. Stuck in a gritty port town on the coast of Britannia in 1599 during the Age of Discovery, Bren repeatedly tries to escape on the sailing ships that frequent the port, only to be thwarted time and time again. He loves his father but doesn't really like him and doesn't want to end up like him, working long hours drawing maps for the wealthy Rand McNally. Finally, adventure finds Bren when a dying man gives him a coin ripe with magic that enables him to accompany the famous Admiral Bowman on a fortune-seeking adventure. Bren uses his fine problem-solving skills to crack the code of the magic coin that will lead him to the beginning of an adventure and possibly treasures left by Marco Polo. 

Is it any good?

This fast-paced nautical adventure has enough twists and turns to captivate readers, along with interwoven folktales and myths from both Western and Eastern cultures. It has it all: greed, danger, intrigue, and magic. Sensitive readers might find the graphic depictions of murder and fighting in THE VANISHING ISLAND unsettling. That said, the depictions of Bren's harsh life are a good representations of life during the late 16th century. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difference between history and historical fantasy. The Vanishing Island is historical fantasy. In what ways is inventing history entertaining for the reader, and in what ways can it be misleading?

  • The Age of Discovery was a time when drinking was common among everyone and water wasn't always safe to drink. Discuss how that might have affected daily life, especially for children. 

  • Author Barry Wolverton describes life on the sailing vessel the Albatross in great detail. What would it be like to be on a sailing vessel in the 16th century? How would it differ from being on a ship today?

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