Review: The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones

May Contain Spoilers


When I learned that Diana Wynne Jones had passed away, I actually cried.  I have loved her books so much, for so long, and the thought of her wonderful being silenced depressed me.  She was writing brilliant tales brimming with magic long before Harry Potter arrived on the scene, and it’s frustrating that she never attainted the recognition she deserved.  I remember haunting used bookstores and libraries in search of her then out of print books.  At least today, the majority of them are readily available, and quite a few are offered in eBook format.  Win!

I was so excited when I received a review copy of The Islands of Chaldea.  But then I didn’t want to read it, because this is the last new book by her that I will ever have the pleasure of reading.  Completed by her sister, Ursula Jones, I couldn’t have hoped for better.  This is classic Diana Wynne Jones, and I loved every precious word of it.

Aileen is descended from a long line of Wise Women, powerful magic users on the island of Skarr.  Raised by her Aunt Beck after her mother’s death, the story begins with a failure.  Aileen has been confined for the night to seek her magic, but when things go awry, she realizes that she’s not going to receive her vision or her magic.  Feeling like a complete failure, she frets about her lack of powers.  Her no-nonsense Aunt Beck reassures her; sometimes, it takes more than once to receive the gift of magic.

Shortly after, they are both summoned by the king.  The High King insists that they set off on a journey to free his son from Logra, the kingdom that stole him away years ago, and without much choice, off they go.  Beck and Aileen are joined by Ogo, a village boy, and Ivar, an arrogant young prince.  According to prophecy, they must gather people from the other islands of Chaldea to bring down the barrier that separates Logra from the rest of islands.  The barrier has disrupted trade and has everyone worried about what exactly the Lograns are doing on the other side of it.  Are they building an army? Preparing for war?

I love DWJ’s writing so much because her protagonists are so relatable.  Aileen is no exception.  She feels like a failure because she didn’t have her vision, and frets that she might not have any magic.  She is lacking in confidence, though as the journey proceeds, and she is forced to make decisions for the little group, her self-esteem begins to build.  Each challenge gives her another reason to believe in herself, so by the end of the book, she is more than ready to face the villain.  Though she is still terrified of being overmatched, she’s more than ready to give her all to the confrontation, and with everyone’s life at stake, she finds the resolve to stand strong.  It doesn’t hurt that she finds assistance from an unexpected, and very powerful, source.

The other thing I enjoy about DWJ’s books is how magic just is.   There’s no big build up or lengthy explanation for it, but it’s everywhere.  The magic is so natural and such a fundamental part of her stories that I wonder why there isn’t any in ours.  Seriously!  Invisible cats?  Magical songs?  Why don’t they exist in our world?

The Islands of Chaldea is highly recommended for old fans of Diana Wynne Jones, as well as new.  This MG read will appeal to readers of all ages.

Grade:  A-

Review copy provided by publisher

From Amazon:

The Islands of Chaldea is a new novel of magic and adventure by the renowned fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, who left behind many acclaimed and beloved books upon her death in 2011, including the internationally bestselling Howl’s Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci books. The Islands of Chaldea was completed by Diana Wynne Jones’s sister Ursula Jones, an acclaimed novelist and actress.

Aileen comes from a long line of magic makers, and her Aunt Beck is the most powerful magician on Skarr. But even though she is old enough, Aileen’s magic has yet to reveal itself. When Aileen is sent over the sea on a mission for the King, she worries that she’ll be useless and in the way. A powerful (but mostly invisible) cat changes all of that—and with every obstacle Aileen faces, she becomes stronger and more confident and her magic blooms. This stand-alone novel is a perfect introduction to the novels of the beloved Diana Wynne Jones.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones

  • June 6, 2014 at 1:03 am

    I love her books too!

  • June 8, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    I really enjoyed this book too. I found it more coherent than some of her other late books, interestingly; it was a pleasant, gentle read. I wish there could be more about the fascinating Islands of Chaldea, but this will have to do.

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