X Isle

X Isle

Author: Steve Augarde

Publication: 2009, Ember

Pages: 477

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Most of England has sunk beneath the ocean following a massive hurricane.  What’s left is in ruins – homes rotting, people hungry.  Everyone is desperate for even the smallest hope.  That hope is X Isle.  The Eck brothers and their salvage crew work there, and if you offer a good enough payment they might be willing to take your son – make sure he gets fed and has a safe place to sleep in return for his work.  Baz and his father manage to win him a precious spot on the boat to X Isle.  But when Baz gets there, he discovers that all the stories about the island were lies.  Life there is hell, and every day is a struggle to survive.  And it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Augarde has created a rich and frightening post-apocalyptic world seen through the narrow lens of life on the island.  As Baz and his friends build a boat jetty from the crumbled remains of a building, sort goods dragged up from the ocean by the salvage crew, and struggle with hunger, heat, and the constant fear of living under a group of men who see them as little more than tools, we get a glimpse of what life in a drowned world might be like.

One of Augarde’s most powerful storylines follows Preacher John – the Eck brother’s fiery and imposing father, and one of the more frightening villains I’ve come across.  He’s determined to save the world through prayer and sacrifice.  Week by week he raises the stakes, making his sacrifices ever more elaborate and driving the story forward as Baz and his friends realize they must fight back before one of them winds up on the altar.

What I Liked the Least: I had a couple of minor complaints, none of which interfered with my overall enjoyment of the story.  First, the storm itself didn’t make a lot of sense.  The story takes place two years after, so we don’t see it happen, but I found it very hard to believe that a single massive storm system – no matter how big – could send most of Britain under water in the course of a single weekend.  Second, for most of the book I couldn’t stop wondering why everyone was spending all their time scavenging for cans of food when they were surrounded by the ocean.  I couldn’t understand why they weren’t all building rafts going out to fish and gather seaweed.  In the last 50 or so pages it finally became clear that the water they could reach without major seafaring boats was simply too silted and dirty for fish to survive.  The explanation made sense, but I wish it had come in the first 50 pages instead of the last.

How Good was the Action? There are only a few action sequences in the book.  X Isle is more about the relationships among the boys on the island, their daily struggle to survive, the fear and torture they undergo at the hands of their overseers, and their plan to fight back.   It’s full of tension, fear, and uncertainty.  That said, there is one great action sequence near the end when Baz finds himself caught up in deadly battle.  At that point the writing became taut – brimming over with a powerful stew of emotions and sensory detail that drove the action forward.  Very compelling and very real.

How Engaging was the Story? It’s a mixed bag.  I loved Baz’s character.  In fact, most of the characters, even the secondary ones, are colorful and powerfully written.  And a lot of the individual scenes where fraught with tension.  There are some great moments in this book, as Baz tears his hands apart carrying chunks of concrete to build a jetty, sweats with fear as he tries to serve up a meal to the Eck brothers, or runs from the overseers.  And I loved the relationships between the nine boys who work on the island.  A lot of great comedic happens after the work day is over and they’re locked into their room for the night.  But put together there were times when the pace of the book seemed to drag, and I had to wonder if Augarde couldn’t have cut some of the scenes and shortened it up.  

Overall Assessment: Augarde has crafted a dark and frightening vision of life in a drowned world.  It’s packed with colorful, richly drawn characters and taut scenes.  While the book may drag in places and be slightly longer than necessary, it’s a scary read with flashes of comedic brilliance.

Profanity: Very little – mostly British profanity like tosser and chuffin’

Sex: A few references, especially when the Eck brothers have ‘ladies night’ and bring a group of prostitutes to the island.

Violence: Yes.  There are beatings, threats of torture, and people die.  There is some blood, but not a lot.  It’s a violent place and violent things happen, but for the most part it’s not overly gruesome.

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