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Sunday, March 22, 2015

THE ISLANDS of the BLESSED (audiobook) by Nancy Farmer



Published by Simon and Schuster Auidio in 2009.
Duration: 13 hours, 30 minutes
Read by Gerard Doyle

Jack, the apprentice Bard from late 8th century Saxon England and his difficult friend Thorgil, the Viking girl, continue their adventures in the conclusion to their trilogy (although there is an opening for the series to continue...). 

As with the other books in this series, Jack and Thorgil come into contact with a host of fairy tale creatures such as Mermen and Mermaids, Hogboons, Half-trolls and even a Viking god as Nancy Farmer demonstrates the depth of her research into European mythology. Jack and Thorgil join the bard on a quest to correct a horrible wrong done by Father Severus on a Mermaid  years ago (the Merpeople are called Fin Folk in this book) that has caused her to become a fearsome ghostly creature that kills and spreads disease and destruction. 
A Viking Longship in the Bayeux Tapestry. Photo by Urban.

In this book, the adventure returns to the form of the first book and heads out to the open sea in Viking long boats. But, sadly, this book is much more like the second book of the series than the first. The book quickly deteriorates into a series of rather pointless confrontations with random monsters that are the unfortunate by-product of Nancy Farmer's meticulous research. Rather than develop a creature and flesh it out as a character (which the first book did so well with the Trolls and their world) this book just throws the out as a series of obstacles that Jack must overcome in his quest. It reminded me of the worst of the adventures that I helped create when I played Dungeons and Dragons in Junior High and High School.

The best parts of the book are when Jack struggles with the immense changes his world is undergoing. Christianity is a new arrival and Jack struggles with blending his Christian worldview and his pagan worldview.  He struggles with a Christianity that allows Father Severus to be so cruel. But, he has the example of Father Aidan who exudes a much more subtler style of Christianity and who comes so much closer to living up to the ideals of Christianity. Jack respects those ideals and espouses them at a critical moment that I cannot detail here because of spoilers. But, he is also a practitioner of magic that Christianity condemns (or at least discourages, depending on the location).  He also struggles with his friends the Vikings - fantastic friends, loyal to a fault who will gladly slit your throat and sell your sister into slavery and the Viking brand of paganism that glorifies death above all. 

As I listened, I was struck by the idea that the best parts of the book were constantly being subverted by yet another mythical beast's arrival making the book much longer and all the poorer.

Gerald Doyle's narration was extraordinary, as it was in the other two books of this trilogy.

It can be found on Amazon here: The Islands of the Blessed (Sea of Trolls Trilogy)

Click on the Nancy Farmer label below to see the other reviews of the books in this trilogy.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5. 

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