The Islands of Chaldea was written by Diana Wynne Jones and completed by Ursula Jones. It was published in 2014 by Greenwillow.
“Aileen comes from a long line of magicworkers. And her own gifts should have been even greater. But she failed her initiation so completely that she doubts she’ll ever become as magical as her aunt Beck, the most powerful magicworker in Skarr.
So when the High King sends Aileen and Aunt Beck on a secret—and suspicious—quest across all the Islands of Chaldea, Aileen worries she’ll only be in the way.
Hmmm, as Aunt Beck would say. What blather.
The quest is not at all what it seems, and Aileen must puzzle out her own way after Aunt Beck angers another formidable sorceress. With the help of a (mostly) invisible cat, a (surprisingly) wise parrot, and a ragtag band of allies, Aileen will see her magic bloom. And while she’s at it, she might even rescue her missing father and save a lost prince.”
So, this is it. The very last DWJ book. I had such an incredible sense of both nostalgia and sorrow while reading this. It’s one of Jones’s simpler books, in the style of Aunt Maria rather than Fire and Hemlock, but for the most part it has that wonderful DWJ atmosphere. The world, although not as developed as it potentially could have been, had a slight Earthsea feel to it. Although one review that I read said that the magic didn’t make any sense, I say that magic doesn’t have to make sense, necessarily. It’s the wonder and mystery to magic that I love, not the precise details on how it works (although that can be pretty awesome as well). I don’t care how Aileen works her magic when what she does is so awesome.
Kudos to Ursula Jones for both taking the task of finishing the book and for maintaining DWJ’s tone throughout. I honestly couldn’t tell where DWJ left off and Ursula began, although Ursula’s afterword gave me a hint.
I’ve noticed that I always compliment DWJ for her plot-making skills when reviewing her books. It’s different this time around, but I must say that this book seems to have its focus less on plot and more on the world of Chaldea. I said earlier that it gave me an Earthsea feel, but it also gave me a Dalemark Quartet, also by DWJ, feel. In a way, The Islands of Chaldea seems to be trying to accomplish something similar to Dalemark, but slightly less effectively.
If I were to recommend any book to a first-time DWJ reader, it wouldn’t be this one (for the curious: I would recommend either Howl’s Moving Castle or Charmed Life, or possibly Dark Lord of Derkholm if they can appreciate subtle satire). While this is a good book, the fact that it was incomplete at the time of DWJ’s death shows. In her afterword, Ursula states that she had no clue as to what DWJ planned and had to scour the book for hints. While I think Ursula did a decent job, the last part of the book just seems strange. And let’s face it: we have no clue if this is how DWJ planned The Islands of Chaldea to end. And since DWJ is such a complex plot-worker, the abruptness and shallowness of this one really shows, especially in some of the more random romances (Aileen’s can be seen a mile away, not so much Beck’s).
And as seamless as the transition between DWJ and Ursula seems at first, once you take into account Ursula’s afterword, it becomes much clearer as to where one ends and the other begins, which is also where the book starts to fall apart. I don’t blame Ursula for this in the slightest; indeed, I commend her for finishing the book in lieu of her sister and doing so in such a way that I actually had to go back and check to see where exactly that one particular clue was. But, it is a bit obvious, in hind sight, where the transition is and it does make the book a little disjointed. Also, the last page is so remarkably un-DWJ that it’s like a dash of cold water to the face.
Also, the constant negative portrayal of religion is a bit much. I know DWJ was not a fan of religion, but she reaches almost rant-level proportions here.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“And no news of Prince Alasdair ever after, I believe, sire,” Ivar said.
The High King lifted his head and gazed into the coals of the brazier a moment. “As to that,” he said, “we are not sure. No, indeed, we are not sure. Rumors, and rumors of rumors, continue to reach us. The last words were so definite that it seems to us and to all our advisors that there must be a crack or so in the wall between Chaldea and Logra.”
“And those words are, sire?” asked my aunt.
“That the spell can be breached and Prince Alasdair rescued,” the High King answered, “and that the answer can be found if a Wise One journeys from Skarr, through Bernica and Gallis, and enters Logra with a man from each island. This would seem to mean you, my lady Beck.”
The Queen stopped to put her hand where Plug-Ugly’s head seemed to be. “Is that what you call him?” she said. “How did he find you?”
“He was on an island that seemed to be part of Lone, Majesty,” I said. “He—er—sort of followed us.”
“Or followed you,” the Queen said. She turned to Aunt Beck again. “You are very lucky to have such a gifted assistant,” she said.
I knew I was blushing redder than Ogo. Aunt Beck shot me a scathing look and answered in her driest way, “If gifted means secretly adopting a stray cat, then I suppose I am lucky, yes.”
The Islands of Chaldea is a decent book, but it lacks so many things that made DWJ’s books so great. It falls apart at the end despite the best efforts of Ursula Jones to craft the plot resolution, and the entire book (not just Ursula’s portion) doesn’t seem to have that great tight plot and complex details that DWJ usually has. This is definitely a book for DWJ fans to read, but not first-time DWJ readers as it might turn them off DWJ forever.
You can buy this here: The Islands of Chaldea