Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book Review: The Isle of the Lost (Descendants #1)

Release Date: May 5, 2015
Author: Melissa De La Cruz
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Length: 311 pages

Twenty years ago, all the evil villains were banished from the kingdom of Auradon and made to live in virtual imprisonment on the Isle of the Lost. The island is surrounded by a magical force field that keeps the villains and their descendants safely locked up and away from the mainland. Life on the island is dark and dreary. It is a dirty, decrepit place that's been left to rot and forgotten by the world.

But hidden in the mysterious Forbidden Fortress is a dragon's eye: the key to true darkness and the villains' only hope of escape. Only the cleverest, evilest, nastiest little villain can find it...who will it be?

Maleficent, Mistress of the Dark: As the self-proclaimed ruler of the isle, Maleficent has no tolerance for anything less than pure evil. She has little time for her subjects, who have still not mastered life without magic. Her only concern is getting off the Isle of the Lost.

Mal: At sixteen, Maleficent's daughter is the most talented student at Dragon Hall, best known for her evil schemes. And when she hears about the dragon's eye, Mal thinks this could be her chance to prove herself as the cruelest of them all.

Evie: Having been castle-schooled for years, Evil Queen's daughter, Evie, doesn't know the ins and outs of Dragon Hall. But she's a quick study, especially after she falls for one too many of Mal's little tricks.

Jay: As the son of Jafar, Jay is a boy of many talents: stealing and lying to name a few. Jay and Mal have been frenemies forever and he's not about to miss out on the hunt for the dragon's eye.

Carlos: Cruella de Vil's son may not be bravest, but he's certainly clever. Carlos's inventions may be the missing piece in locating the dragon's eye and ending the banishment for good.

Mal soon learns from her mother that the dragon's eye is cursed and whoever retrieves it will be knocked into a deep sleep for a thousand years. But Mal has a plan to capture it. She'll just need a little help from her "friends." In their quest for the dragon's eye, these kids begin to realize that just because you come from an evil family tree, being good ain't so bad.



Characters: This story is told from five third-person perspectives; Mal, the daughter of Maleficent, Jay, the son of Jafar, Evie, the daughter of the Evil Queen, Carlos, the son of Cruella De Ville, and Prince Ben, the son of Belle and Beast. While the first four characters' experience is more or less as a group, Ben has a plot line all his own. What I found really interesting and very compelling is the somewhat dysfunctional relationship between these kids and their parent(s). The children of the villains have to deal with the neglect of their parents in one way or another; Cruella treating Carlos like a servant and pet, Maleficent making Mal feel unworthy of her heritage, Jafar's greed overshadowing any possible affection he might give Jay, and the Evil Queen's obsession with vanity and her daughter looking "fairest" that she doesn't really pay attention to her daughter. Ben on the other hand has loving parents who have paid attention to him all his life, bu have certain expectations on what kind of a king he will make some day, or really his father does. These things lead all the characters to try and figure out who they really are despite their parents influence on their lives. I was really surprised at the amount of actual character development these kids go through in this book, with it not only being a middle grade novel, but a prequel to a Disney Channel Original Movie, I was a bit concerned that the development may have been lackluster at best to make way for more identifiable development in the actual movie, but these characters, while no where near fully developed, may just be at the perfect point in their character development to make for a very well written and enjoyable movie.

Friendships and Romance: While there is no real romance in this book, mainly due to it being a middle-grade read as well as being a prequel, what this book does focus on is the friendship that develops between the four kids trapped on the isle of the lost. When the book starts off the only real friendship that exists between this foursome is a sort of alliance between Jay and Mal, while Carlos and Evie eventually become friends once they meet on Evie's first day. I liked how slowly it took for this friendship to form, though that may also be because the story itself moved a bit slowly, which I'll get to in a minute, but this wasn't some sort of friendship that popped up out of nowhere, it took these characters really getting to know each other and building some sort of trust for them to become really good friends by the end of the book. There is a bit of romance in this book as well, but it's very, VERY, small. It's mainly just a bit of foreshadowing for the upcoming movie.

World-Building: Even though the book was written by Melissa De La Cruz, the majority of the world-building was developed by those involved with the Descendants movie and so while the world-building is too large an element to leave out of the final rating, I wanted to just clarify that to me this aspect of the story really has no bearing on my perception of De La Cruz as an author. The world in this book is very, for lack of a more accurate term, interesting. It takes place in a more or less modern day setting, though the classic Disney stories that we all know and love pretty much happened twenty years earlier. The villains of those tales were all banished to an island covered by a magical barrier that keeps all sorts of magic out. Since their banishment these villains have taken to having kids, more or less all around the same time. What I found particularly interesting and a bit disappointing was the fact that they didn't really have kids with each other, that we know of at least. The identity of the kids' non-major villain parent is never revealed though acknowledged in some way or another. I would have loved a more detailed interest in the other parents of these kids and learned more about their complete heritage. A lot of this book does in fact feel like a cheesy Disney Channel movie, things are adjusted to fit a more middle grade and younger audience and there are terrible, though not always in a bad way, puns throughout the tale. While I enjoyed the cheesiness for the most part it was very obvious that this wasn't aimed anywhere close to my age group which made finishing the book a bit hard.

Predictability: For the most part this book was fairly predictable. It was easy to see where these characters were going to end up, probably due to the fact that I've seen the trailer for the movie and I know however vaguely where these characters would be by the end of the book/beginning of the movie. As for the moments throughout the book that were meant to catch the reader off guard or be in some ways shocking, I'd say a good fifty percent of the time I genuinely wasn't sure exactly what would happen. However, that other fifty percent where I knew for the most part exactly what was going to happen, there was so much foreshadowing that at times it felt a bit crammed down my throat. I get that this is a book aimed at a younger audience but even so I think there should have been a bit more subtlety at times.

Ending: This book ends, as far as I can tell, right where the movie will begin. All in all I really enjoyed the ending of this book. It helps set up, again as far as I can tell, a bunch of things for the upcoming movie and really showcases the mindset of these kids right before they are thrust into this new journey. There is a bit of a cliffhanger as you might expect with something like a prequel, but if you watch the trailer for the movie, which I'll share below, it gives a bit of, maybe not closure, but a good sense of where this story is heading.


So while I, for the most part, enjoyed this story, the fact that it was extremely obvious that this was aimed toward a middle-grade and younger audience, made the book a bit harder to finish, and the foreshadowing was at times a bit heavy handed. That being said I'm still really looking forward to watching the Descendants movie when it premieres on Disney Channel on July 31st and am also interested to see if there will be more book companions to this world. Be sure to check out the Descendants trailer below!


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