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Book Review – The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz

The Isle of the Lost
Melissa de la Cruz
320 pages
ISBN 978-148472097-4
$17.99 USD
Available May 5, 2015


Melissa de la Cruz’s young adult fantasy novel, The Isle of the Lost, is the prequel to the upcoming Disney Descendants movie event on the Disney channel this Summer 2015. It tells the story of four “descendants,” children of classic Disney villains, and how they survive and thrive on the domed island to which their parents, and all villains, were exiled almost two decades ago.

Let me make this clear right off the bat: I lovehated this book.

My stodgy adult side, which is an unnecessarily fussy Disney purist, read this with rolled eyes and derisive snorts. But my young adult side, my magical side, gobbled this up and turned pages with intent. My grumpy, judgey adult side spent the time reading this nitpicking and silently arguing with the page. But my spirited, curious young adult side quickly built up a new world out of de la Cruz’s words and ran wild down its streets.

It’s the kind of guilty pleasure novel adults should read, and the kind of fun new adventure young adults and even kids will want to read.

The tagline, “Evil tree. Bad apple?” sums up the main characters perfectly. Ten years after the adult villains’ exile from the United Kingdom of Auradon (or the United States of Auradon, depending on which chapter you read), the young children of Maleficent and the Evil Queen, the purple-haired Mal and the blue-haired Evie, respectively, find themselves on two sides of a feud that originates over a party invitation snub. (As does seem to happen in both Disney lore and with a certain breed of mother.) With their friends, Carlos, son of Cruella, and Jay, son of Jafar, Mal and Evie contend with each other and the rigors of Dragon Hall, their ignoble alma mater. But no static character is ever enticing for very long, and soon we find that what makes these “bad apple” teenagers so interesting is that there’s all kinds of levels of clever rottenness.

At first I didn’t think this was a very deep book. Initially, I thought it was trying too hard to be funny and make light of what most would consider to be life on a seriously bleak prison island. I thought the plight of those on the island was being used for comedic purposes. Initially, it got on my nerves. Surely it was pretty rough there with no magic, making the best of what they had. But why did de la Cruz have to write it like the kids enjoyed the challenge of survival? Surely this was forced hubris and not realistic at all!

But as I kept reading I realized the island was a cross between the Hunger Games’ District 12 and a 1940s European ghetto where those-who-know-better are in charge of the exiled inhabitants’ lives. This is a very dark issue, and one worth pointing out, because we’re made to question what kind of good, kind-hearted heroes would banish anyone to a prison where their basic needs are barely met. It was funny, at first, to think of all the villains we know so well degraded and made to live almost comedically disenchanted lives, annoyed by the lack of first-world niceties they were accustomed to back in their villainous castles, forced to make due with whatever comes in on the barges that dredge the waters outside of Aurudon for scavenged food and items.

And there is a creepy darkness behind the rotted food they were rationed and the third-hand clothes and the fifth-hand furniture and electronics they pilfered. (Yes, fellow Disney purists, there are electronics in this ‘verse; accept it.) It’s made clear that those on the Island are expected to make do, and if they happen to catch some refuse washed up on their shores, then they ought to be happy about it. But there is a meanness in this reasoning. And that meanness comes from Aurudon. The Island was meant to exile the villains by name from the good people of the kingdom, but all it did was create a stark division between the Haves and the Have Nots, made worse by the culture in Auradon that encourages the populace to forget there are even people living on the island.

Okay, end of my socio-economic awareness rant. What you need to know regarding such things is that the teenagers who inhabit the island are incredible survivors. While their parents live in the past and cling to the scraps of their former wealth and beauty, these kids are building their own futures, outdoing their predecessors’ schemes, and, most importantly, trying to get the heck off their prison island.

Author, Melissa de la Cruz Photo by: Denise Bovee
Author, Melissa de la Cruz
Photo by: Denise Bovee

But things aren’t all palm leaf fans and harp music back in Auradon. King Beast and Queen Belle, the judge and jury who banished all the villains to life under the dome on the island, have a son of their own. And Prince Ben has a heavy crown to wear. From trying to live up to his father’s historically powerful example as king to finding his own voice, Prince Ben provides us a reminder that no matter how well-to-do and provided for you are, you still have to face the struggle of your own coming of age. Also, it doesn’t help that Prince Ben keeps having dreams of a girl with familiar purple hair…

The story really gets going when Evie and Carlos, the tinkerer mad scientist of the group, accidentally-on-purpose activate one of Carlos’s inventions and cause a disturbance in the force field which shrouds their island. This shock to the system reawakens the last glimmers of magic on the otherwise magically-devoid isle. This magic holds the key to escaping the island. But more importantly for the teens, it can only be found by the most wicked, most evil individual. And that is not a title these kids can pass up.

Once my stuffy adult side suspended its disbelief and delved freely into this dark new world de la Cruz has created, my young adult side finally started to feel the exhilaration of what it must be like to be a tough, scrappy teenager on the Isle of the Lost. There’s the pride in survival and a strength in independence to experience. More importantly, it is insightful to look down inside ourselves and ask the same questions Mal, Evie, Jay, and Carlos ask: Am I more than who I came from? Does an evil tree REALLY only make bad apples?

While I had lots of reservations about this book, I found myself easily intrigued once I let myself enjoy it. I would recommend it to anyone who can overcome their pedantic Disney purist tendencies. And with the Disney channel movie event currently being promoted for the summer, you can bet this new breed of villains isn’t going to shrink back into the shadows anytime soon!

Want to order it now? Click here!

The Isle of the Lost has inspired a Disney Channel movie, and you can check out the trailer here!

So, what do you think of this new generation of villain? Tell us in the comments!

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