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Journey Across the Hidden Islands

Review

Journey Across the Hidden Islands

Sarah Beth Durst’s JOURNEY ACROSS THE HIDDEN ISLANDS follows two twin princesses, along with a flying lion, as they embark on a trek through the many islands of their kingdom to bargain with a dragon. If they fail on their mission, then the magical barrier that protects their lands from the ruthless empire that their ancestors escaped and the koji --- monsters that long ago attacked their people and ravaged their lands --- will fall.

At the heart of this story are Seika and Ji-Lin, the two princesses, who are very different from each other but complement the story so well. Seika was born first, which has made her the heir to the empire. She has lived and trained for her future in the palace since she was young. Seika has the weight of the empire on her shoulders and wants nothing more than to make her father proud. Ji-Lin, on the other hand, has been living in a temple training to become a warrior and a rider of the winged-lions. Ji-Lin is brave and headstrong, but she is also reckless and yearns to prove herself to her father. At times it seems the two sisters are not very alike and always make the opposite choices, but deep down they want the same things. Both girls wonder what it would have been like to be in the other’s shoes. Over the course of the novel, we see the two protagonists grow and in many ways they do that because of each other. Sarah Beth Durst develops these two characters as a yin and yang, so that separately they are total opposites but together they fit and work well to save the day.

"JOURNEY ACROSS THE HIDDEN ISLANDS displays Sarah Beth Durst’s talent for world building....fantastically written and fantasy fans will find it utterly unique."

JOURNEY ACROSS THE HIDDEN ISLANDS displays Sarah Beth Durst’s talent for world building. This lands of Himitsu have a thoroughly developed history, culture and society. It is even more unique in that the world displays the fact that more often than not, history is written by the victor and not everything you read is fact. The fantasy aspects were also amazing. I loved that it was inspired by Asian mythology and aesthetics. It was clear from the very beginning and, for the most, part stayed true through the entire novel. At the same time, I liked that the book didn’t focus on just one mythology and did mix some Medieval European mythology in as well with the type of dragon. It made the story and the world fresh. I’ve never read a book with a world quite like this one. The koji were really cool and made for great action scenes throughout the story. I would have loved to have seen even more of the monsters that the empire feared so much, but it makes sense with the plot why we didn’t. The winged-lions as companions to warriors and fighters of the koji were unique and Alejan was one of the best characters in the story. He provided humor that made the story lighter. Sarah Beth Durst excellently weaves danger and humor together to create this magical story that, while highly compelling and exciting, is never too dark for its readers.

One of the important themes throughout the story is the art and importance of storytelling. In many ways the characters are able to save the day by imparting stories to the dragon, the waterhorse, and others. Through characters like Kirro --- a boy who the princesses saved from Zemyla, outside of the magical barrier --- Durst is able to show that stories are dependent upon their narrator. This running thread through the story gave an added depth and helped cement this world for the reader.

This story has an appeal to not just middle grade readers, but older ones as well. It has a similar feel to classic fantasy middle grade novels that are both timeless and ageless. There is a potential for a sequel that would help to tell what the characters do in the aftermath of their bargain with the dragon and their rekindling with the Zemylan empire. JOURNEY ACROSS THE HIDDEN ISLANDS is fantastically written and fantasy fans will find it utterly unique.

Reviewed by Dana Cuadrado on May 22, 2017

Journey Across the Hidden Islands
by Sarah Beth Durst