I'm a big fan of Steve Augarde's Touchstone Trilogy (The Various, Celandine, and Winter Wood) so when I heard he had a new young adult novel out I was excited to read it. X Isle takes place after some sort of not-quite-defined disaster floods the world, leaving only rooftops and tall buildings peeking over the water. While it's never entirely spelled out where the story is taking place, it's safe to assume it's somewhere in England.
The survivors live on what they can and gangs of thieves run rampant. But for young boys, there's a possibility of escape: the island, once a hill, where the Eck family takes young boys and puts them to work in their salvage operations in exchange for food and shelter. They have a boat and diving outfits and are able to collect canned goods and other items from far below. Everyone hopes to send their sons to "X Isle" for a better life.
Baz ends up on the boat to X Isle, along with a scrawny kid named Ray. But what they find when they get there is far from paradise. It's more like Lord of the Flies, except with a few very big, very surly men in charge. A few older boys are in charge of the younger ones, and they're force to work hard all day, with only a single can of food to eat at the end of the day.
Aside from the everyday cruelties, Baz finds that the scariest thing on the island is Preacher John, the patriarch of the Eck family, who sees himself as a prophet and hopes to gain God's favor to turn back the tides. His Sunday sermons are creepy and hint at his larger plans for the island and the boys who work there.
Eventually Baz and the other boys try to figure out how to overthrow the Ecks, and it's a plan that involves a lot of ingenuity. And farts. (These are middle-school-aged boys, after all.)
The story takes a little bit to get going, but once they're on the island there's a slow but steady descent into terror. As a reader (at least as an adult) there were certain things I saw coming early on, but Augarde still manages a few unexpected twists here and there. The one big reveal, however, is Ray's secret, which Baz doesn't figure out until almost the very end. But I had my guess near the beginning, and I would think most astute readers will have it figured out long before Baz does.
Overall, I didn't love X Isle as much as the Touchstone Trilogy, but Augarde does a good job of portraying this one small corner of a flooded world. In a sense, it's kind of a prison break story, so anyone who likes that type of tale would probably enjoy this one.
Fed to jonathan's brain | December 14, 2010 | Comments (0)