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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Watery Dystopian World Makes For Wide-Eyed, Gnawed-Fingernail Adventure

(Image from Indiebound)
Ever since massive flooding drowned the old world in mucky water, killing off most of Earth's population, chaos reigns in what were once civilized countries. Gentle England of yore no longer exists, replaced by a hardscrabble land where food, clean water, and safety are luxuries few can afford. Life on the mainland is so bleak that its residents will offer anything, even their children, to escape. Young boys are taken to The Island, a place rumored to have adequate shelter, plenty of food, and guaranteed protection for kids willing to work for it. When Baz wins a coveted spot on the transport ship, he's elated. He'll miss his father, but life can only be better on The Island. How could it possibly be worse?

It doesn't take long for Baz and the other newbie, 13-year-old Ray, to figure out that X-Isle ain't exactly Eden. Once a posh girl's school, the island's crumbling buildings now house a trio of sadistic brothers; Preacher John, their father and self-appointed prophet; the ragtag group of boys who do the family's bidding; the diving equipment necessary to the Ecks' salvage business; and rooms full of canned food, water bottles, pots, pans and other relics from the world Baz once knew. The treasure's locked up, of course, away from the greedy stomachs of starving boys, who work from dawn to dusk sorting the bounty for the Eck brothers to sell on the mainland. Bullied by the older "capos," the boys get one tin of food a day, sleep on soiled pallets, and are forced to slave away at whatever tasks the Ecks assign them.

Maybe his stomach's fuller on X-Isle than it was on the mainland, but Baz is getting tired of his island prison. It's becoming clear that, despite what the Ecks tell their families, boys never leave the island. When Preacher John's fanaticism reaches terrifying new heights, Baz and his friends know they have to escape. But nothing in this new world is easy. Overthrowing the bizarre little island kingdom is tantamount to suicide. And for what? The nightmare that passes for freedom on the mainland? It's up to the boys to decide, up to the boys to survive.

X-Isle, Steve Augarde's gritty YA dystopian novel, introduces a harsh new world where the battle for survival has become as desperate and bloody as any war. Young Baz represents innocence lost and found as he struggles to preserve his humanity in the face of grim reality. He - along with the rest of the island's lost boys - is instantly empathetic, his story constantly compelling. Not all of the tale's surprises are that surprising, but that hardly matters. X-Isle is a tense, action-packed adventure that will appeal to even the most reluctant readers (though they may be put off by the book's bulk). Dystopian fans know the genre's never light and fluffy, and this book's no exception. Still, it's one of those stories that had me racing through the pages with wide eyes and gnawed fingernails, knowing I wouldn't - couldn't - stop until I read every last word.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 (possibly R) for language (no F-bombs, although Augarde is British so I'm not familiar with all the expressions he uses), violence, and some sexual content

To the FTC, with love: Another library

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