Title: The Brides of Rollrock Island
Author: Margo Lanagan
Genre: Young adult / fantasy
Rating: 5 / 5
Oh my gahhhd. This book is incredible! I started it and finished it within a 24 hour period, so it’s hard to believe that it has sent me into full-fledged post-book depression. As I laid face-down on the couch, despondent, Peter asked me, “Book depression, huh? Maybe if you talk about it it’ll help. What was the book about?” I rolled over on my side and waved an arm vaguely in front of me. “It was, like, fantasy? Only…. only…” and gave up trying. I had to fall asleep and wake up again before I felt like myself. Yes, book had such an effect on me that I actually had to sleep it off.
This book was so good I was searching the internet for more books like it when I was only halfway through. The first section of the book failed to draw me in, but now I can’t believe I was almost considering putting it down after the first few pages. It is addictive…or maybe enchanting is the more appropriate word here: eerie, beautiful, haunting, creepy, deep… Like many of my favorite books, it raises lots of questions with no clear and easy answers. It has so many layers to it and offers a lot to thoughtful readers. There is so much here to be gleaned and dissected, so many ways to look at things. The book is supposedly “young adult” fiction, but it has so little in common with the Princess Diaries, Percy Jackson, or even Hunger Games variety so as to stand apart entirely. The only thing it lacks that those books have is perhaps action, a strong plot-driven storyline. Personally, I don’t require a strong plot as long as the book lays out something else of substance. This book delivers there: it has gorgeous writing–nothing too showy, but has a definite style that adds up to beautiful; it has masterful characterization–I even felt the emotions and motivations of characters who were only around for a few paragraphs; perhaps best of all, it has the layers and moral puzzles I alluded to before; and make no mistake, though it may not have a heavy-handed plot, there is certainly story in abundance, so much story it aches.
The book is very strong; there are only a few things that weaken it. First, I would have left off the first section and the last two sections. The first one doesn’t add anything, and although the last two do actually add a lot, I think leaving them off entirely would have made for a stronger ending. There was also one internal inconsistency I noticed in one of the chapters. I may not have been reading closely enough, but in any case it was confusing or ambiguous at best. And that is seriously all I have to complain about.
Before I wrote this review, I went looking for reviews by people who didn’t like the book. When I have a strong reaction to a book, I typically seek out the opposite viewpoint to get a more balanced picture, see if I missed something, hear some critique or praise that hadn’t occurred to me and see if it changes how I view things. For the most part this exercise tends to reinforces what I already think, but in this case was particularly enriching. While I generally agreed with the opinions expressed in the negative reviews, I disagreed about how those opinions were applied to the book. I could probably craft a good argument for why I’m “right” and they’re “wrong,” but to me this really exemplifies the depth and the mystique of this book.