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Fleen Book Corner: Island Book

This review is late; I’ve been delayed in a getting a copy of Island Book by Evan Dahm, but now that I’ve got it and read it, my mind is full of ideas. This review is also early; I really should give this another week or so and let all those ideas coalesce into something more definite, but I don’t want to wait. I want to tell you about this remarkable story and why you should want to read it. And, appropriate for a book that takes place largely on and adjacent to the ocean, Mild spoilers ahoy.

Island Book draws from all of Dahm’s previous work. Although it’s not a story of his Overside setting, it could be part of Overside — the characters are not human, they feature fully-realized cultures with distinct hallmarks, and the eyes express intentions in a clear way. Everything has a backstory, which is largely unrevealed.

We know only as much of the history of Tarrus or the War-Men as the characters in-story see fit to remark upon; what they would take as ordinary and everyday (say, the significance of a mantle the main character wears, then discards as she embarks on adventure) isn’t explained any more than you or I would start the morning with a declaration of And now I will commute to my job in my automobile, which is powered by an internal-combustion engine and around the operation of which some of the most powerful trade forces in the world have organized themselves, as we all know!

And though parts of Island Book go back half a decade or so, I’m not sure he could have completed it until after his edition of Moby-Dick. The boats and winds and the nature of being on the ocean aren’t the sharply-defined realism of Melville’s novel, but they are a simplification of them, a cartoony version that draws the same essential truth in broad strokes. It’s just as a caricature artist must have a formal grounding in anatomy and the rules of realistic representation to know where and when to ignore those rules and keep things simple, but plausible.

But the clearest relation to Dahm’s earlier work would be his edition of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. Sola, our POV character, is swept away to color-coded lands of distinct people, who are mostly aware of each other but don’t really interact. She eventually returns to an Uncle figure (her parents, like Dorothy’s are dead) having learned some about the world and found an appreciation of home. The travels from place to place, where something happens, then something happens, then something happens, sometimes at a fast pace and sometimes slow, but always pushing the story to the next beat with a clear focus on what the story needs.

Like the first Oz book, this first Island Book volume (if the 1 on the spine means anything) serves to introduce us to the world of oceans and the Monster that all seem to know and seek out for different reasons — to conquer, to find inspiration, for pure knowledge — and then place the players back in their starting locales until it’s time for the next adventure. In case you never read the dozen-and-a-half books that L Frank Baum wrote set in Oz, they all start with Dorothy getting swept back into the Fairy Lands from Kansas¹ and getting a subset of the band back together again, until whatever new challenge presenting itself was overcome.

And like the Oz books, there’s a fabulous foundation in this first book, for as many journeys as Sola chooses to make, with whichever friends (some she hasn’t made yet) suit a given story. The Monster may have its secrets revealed or not. New islands may be discovered, or not. Sola’s people may decide she’s no longer cursed and evil² or not. I suspect the future adventures will be more about journey than destination, and that they’ll be just as charming as this first one. I’m looking forward to watching Sola grow into the woman that she’ll be, and the mark that she’ll leave on this world of ever-shifting waves.

Island Book, by Evan Dahm, is published by :01 Books and available wherever books are sold. 288 pages, full color, ages 8 and up. Fleen thanks Dahm for sharing those first two dozen pages all those years ago, and for delivering on their promise in a big way.

Spam of the day:

iBlocker: the digital solution to any security problem. The padlock with a fingerprint.

Wait, isn’t this that padlock that had screws on the outside of the casing that let you disassemble the lock in about twelve seconds, making it the perfect tangible representation of security theater? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, no.

¹ Or wherever; in one, she was on an ocean voyage with Uncle Henry to Australia when swept overboard. Eventually, she just moved with Uncle Henry, and Aunt Em, and Toto, and a Kansas friend or two to the Emerald City to save Baum the trouble of dreaming up another variation on Chapter One to get her back to Oz.

² Did I mention that? They’re totally jerks to a preteen-equivalent girl for something she had no control over.

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