Book Review: The Secrets of Islayne by Kari Lynn West
Goodreads Description: For centuries, the island of Islayne has given certain residents the ability to revive other people’s memories. These gifted individuals are known as luminators, and sixteen-year-old Ronan Saunders desperately desires to join their illustrious ranks. As he struggles against the prejudice of the old, powerful families who have an iron grip on the trade, Ronan falls under the tutelage of a reclusive luminator, rumored to be insane.
Just when his long-desired future is within reach, Ronan and his three friends discover a deadly secret on the island. As they delve deeper into the mystery, what they find forces them to question their loyalties, doubt long-held beliefs, and wrestle with the dire consequences of revealing the truth. Ronan finds himself torn between everything he loves and the only future he’s ever wanted. The entire fate of the lumination trade hangs in the balance of his decision.
My Review: I was given a review copy of The Secrets of Islayne by the author, Kari Lynn West, in exchange for an honest review.
A beautiful island off the coast of Scotland, Islayne has nurtured luminators for centuries. Its very land has gifted those born there with a special power-- to revive another's memories. Ronan, born to non-luminator parents, would give anything to join the ranks among the best, even as his parents try to steer him away from the idea. They don't understand how precious the memories are to Ronan, or the pain of denying his gift and feeling it wither inside him. When Ronan and his friends discover a book that could destroy the lumination trade, he doesn't know whether to expose it and risk his chance as a luminator or ignore it and pretend someone isn't committing the unthinkable. There's a luminator on the island destroying memories instead of reviving them. And if Ronan doesn't catch them first, he could end up as one of the rogue luminator's targets.
Oh man, you guys. The first thing to really jump out at me while reading Secrets was the world building. I'm such a huge, huge fan of world building and so this book was an instant win with me. The lumination trade, the gift, and all the ins and outs from the academy, to the bureaucracy of the trade, to details like the recovery tea after sessions, all added depth to the trade and the world. The book touched on some poignant observations about memory and how it makes us human, which helped to tie the reader back to the heart and weight of the situation. The only complaint I would have about the world building is that I wanted more-- give me more details, show me how luminators function in this culture. Which is usually a good complaint to have.
My second favorite thing about this book was Ronan. I'm a sucker for YA books with boys as the main POV character, but Ronan was such a raw and innocent guy that it's hard not to fall for him. Ronan earnestly loves lumination and the feeling of bringing a memory back, and coupled with his idealistic perspective, he comes across as adorably naive. That nativity is challenged later in the book as he comes to terms with the realities of his trade, which was such a great contrast. He, as well as a couple others in his friend group, face inner conflict throughout the book which really strengthened the characters. It was especially awesome to see Ronan, as well as Cassie, change and grow throughout the book. By the end they're all a little bit more mature, more 'sobered' by the realities they had to face throughout the book.
The plot was well done and thought out. Though the beginning of the book appears to feature Ronan with his tutor and then Ronan hanging with friends, the two worlds slowly intersect and things from one world start to affect the other. The climax was more than just good guys toppling the bad guy, and the complex consequences of doing the right thing made it a really solid read.
Walking away from the book, the only drawback had to do with the writing. The technical writing skills-- good flow, word choice, prose-- all worked well, but other issues held the story back. The author does a lot of heavy telling and infodumping, which really slows down the story and even became repetitive at times. Scenes that should have been powerful barely had an impact because the narrative explained the characters' emotions and situation beforehand. Some of the information contained in the infodumps was interesting and important to the plot, but it could have been shown to the readers instead of just explaining it to them.
As well, the book contained some lazy tropes of YA fiction that dulled the originality of the book. The Absent Parent stereotype reigned hard, as well as a predictable romance that followed a framework of I-have-a-crush-on-you-so-I-want-to-get-to-know-you instead of I-got-to-know-you-and-fell-for-you. It makes things feel forced, right down to the romantic climax where Ronan pretty much says, "So are we gonna do this or what?" As well, there was a lot of POV switching throughout the book, some that was beneficial to the story, and some that...wasn't. It would've been a stronger story if we stayed with Ronan's POV throughout and learned things about the other characters through him. Some of the subplots with his friends became a bit distracting at times and took away from the main plot.
All in all, the Secrets of Islyane was a delightful read with an adorable main character and a lovingly-built world. The author has so much potential, not just with this series but with their writing in general, that I'm really looking forward to future books.
TL;DR: 3/5 stars. A solid story with an adorable main character and a creative approach to memory manipulation.