Book Review: The Secrets of Islayne by Kari Lynn West

Brief Synopsis: On the island of Islayne, which lies off the coast of Scotland, some people have a special ability that they call lumination. Lumination allows the practitioner to revitalize memories of another person which have faded, so that a person may remember again with clarity. This ability is directly related to the land itself, so that only those who live on a certain part of the island have this so-called gift; however, not everyone who lives on this part of the island will have the gift. Furthermore, due to some convoluted bureaucracy and political history, it is very difficult for those who have the gift but who are not of a certain lineage to use their abilities legally. Ronan, our protagonist, has the gift but not the prized bloodlines. Throughout The Secrets of Islayne Ronan and his friends struggle against politicians who want to keep newcomers like Ronan away, stumble across a mystery and diabolic injustice, and try to enjoy summer on their beautiful island.

What a pleasant surprise this book is. Over the past few months I have been slowly phasing out the amount of fantasy and science fiction books that I accept for review because, as a general rule, I simply don’t enjoy them as much as I used to. The Secrets of Islayne reminded me of how a YA fantasy/sci-fi book is supposed to go: I was quickly sucked into the plot, the world building was incredible, and it was fun. This is truly a genre-defying book, and its fantasy elements added to my overall enjoyment. I don’t even know where to start to explain all of the things that make this book such a pleasure to read.

Despite being set on a fictional island, the world around Islayne is shockingly similar to our own. Several times I was caught off guard because I would get so caught up in this incredible land which allows people to manipulate and revive memories, and suddenly one of the characters would pull out something as mundane as a cell phone or drive away in a car. At first these things seemed like they should not go together, but the farther I got into the story the more it made sense. The world is entirely cohesive, just different enough to be deeply interesting but similar enough that I felt like I could picture it well. This is one of those fictional lands that I wish so badly were real so that I could visit and explore the caves, waterfalls, and cities.

The story hinges on the fact that this ability, lumination, is not just some kind of freak super power, but a unique tool that can be wielded similarly to a doctor’s knack for medicine. I was pleased that not all of the central characters had this gift, but that at the same time there were more than two perspectives represented. We get to see not only through the eyes of one person who has the gift and one who does not, but also one who has the gift and does not want it, and another who knows almost nothing about lumination and is more wrapped up in her own personal life, while the politics of lumination swirl around her. These characters, who are also intensely close friends, allow the reader to view lumination from multiple angles, and come to their own opinion on it and its benefit. Additionally, we are able to see inside the lives of those who are in control of the industry produced by lumination as well as those who are just trying to get in. There are no flat characters anywhere in this book, and few possible perspectives left unexamined regarding lumination.

The Secrets of Islayne is not only about the world in which it is set and the people who have its gift, however. Ronan and his friends stumble onto a mystery which might be centuries old, and is definitely bigger than them. This mystery has connotations for all of their futures, as well as the futures of many other people on the island; it is at once intensely personal but also universally important. I can’t say much about what the mystery actually is without either going into a lot of detail or giving away key plot twists, but PLEASE take my word for it that this is one you do not want to miss!

Truly, this is the most enjoyable book I have read in a while. It is easy to read, and while it is aimed at the YA demographic, I believe that anyone could enjoy it. I hope you check this one out and enjoy it as much as I have!

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