Sunday, 27 April 2014

Review, Guest Blog Post & Giveaway: Journey to Rainbow Island by Christie Hsiao (Children's, 9 years +, 7/10E)

 November 2013, Benbella Books, 386 pages, Hardback, Review copy

Themes: good vs evil, love conquers all, save those in danger, fight for what you believe in (in a non-aggressive way), talking animals, 

Content: child slave labour, some fighting, religious/spiritual views

Summary from Serenity Media
Journey to Rainbow Island (November 2013 release at all bookstores), which is also currently being developed into a film and video game, is a story about a brave, dark-eyed little girl, Yu-ning, who ventures out into the world to reignite faith and optimism through her purity, innocence and wisdom. Believing her perfect life on Rainbow Island will never end, Yu-ning’s strength and beliefs are challenged when the idyllic island she has grown up on is attacked by a dark dragon called the Obsidigon. Surrounded by flames, Yu-ning’s best friend gets kidnapped and the island’s Sacred Crystals are stolen. Determined to avoid losing her world full of love and joy, Yu-ning, armed with a magic bow, must venture into the dark corners of the world to uncover secrets thought best ignored, find a weapon believed to be long destroyed, and recapture seven sacred stones—without being burned to a crisp by a very angry dragon. With the help of her master teacher, Metatron, and the comfort of her enchanted pet frog, Magic, Yu-ning embarks on a dangerous journey to overcome not only the darkness attacking her home, but also the scars of sadness that mark one’s own heart.

Nayuleska's thoughts
When asked to read this I nearly declined as it's good vs evil and the moment I want mostly chirpier books (which it ended up being), but then I saw that Yu-ning had a bow which appeals to me a lot (bows sound like a cool weapon to have) and had to say. In this instance I'm going to talk about the parts I wasn't so keen on first. 

It wasn't always the easiest read because the language is highly descriptive, sometimes too much, so I had to read it in parts as I need more straight forward reads when I'm low on energy. There wasn't enough conflict overall: Yu-Ning was able to get through every hurdle fairly easily with the help of her friends - I predicted how every challenge would pan out and it remained the same, I never feared for her life. She almost always knew what to do, she didn't seem to make mistakes or get angry like most children/teens would - there wasn't really any personal development in her character which I was disappointed with. 

I wasn't keen on the animals talking - don't get me wrong, I love animal stories, but for some reasons not all the talking animals sat well with me. The same goes for the strong conviction that love and light can conquer all - I mean this literally. I couldn't suspend my belief enough to believe in Yu-Ning and her story - to have a girl who solves everything using her love, and having people always follow her and believe her and solve the riddle together it felt like something was missing. It felt a bit too easy, and I do like a bit of unpredictability in novels. It was too idealistic for my tastes.

Having said all that, I have graded this as 7/10E, and for good reason. The cool bits were slightly awesome! Overall the theme of love and peace is a positive one for readers to take away. It is far better to love people than to hate them. I'm all for encouraging being nicer to people. Although lacking in certain areas for me it did make a change to have a happier themed book where I knew everything would work out somehow, eventually, and not be all doom and gloom. 

Important issues such as child slave labour is touched upon, as is finding somewhere safe for children to be, where they can be children. I did like how cool the crystal hearts were - you can see Yu-Ning's on the cover...and that leads me to the illustrations! 

These wowed me big time. The characters looked pretty much exactly as I'd imagined them to before I knew what they were like - I love Yu-Ning's practical yet stylish outfit! The illustrations are highly detailed, pleasing to look at, and provide fun breaks in the story to stop and look at them. Yu-Ning ends up with many companions, I loved the picture of her frog called Magic (yes I like frogs...they are cute, ok? Maybe not while a tadpole (too wiggly) but who wouldn't want a frog with them? Ok so I probably did think of the anime Sugar Sugar Rune's frog who is a side-kick to a magic user and looks like this...

Either way a frog sidekick is exciting! Yu-Ning has friends who can help her fly and swim through the sea - no terrain is impassable. If anywhere was dark, well, with Yu-Ning there light shortly followed both literally and figuratively. Her mentors all have distinctive personalities - I grew fond of Metraton and I looked up Cristobel. I fell in love a little with the floating palace, if not the people in it, and the intrigue surrounding Yu-Ning's identity and future which was pretty much the only unsurprising part of the story. This probably isn't enough for me to read the rest of the series, but that is only because I didn't seem to connect with Yu-Ning as I usually do the protagonist, many other readers do connect with her as this is a New York Times best selling hit. I'd say give it a go, as being able to shoot arrows of light which transform the baddies is kind of awesome ^o^. Such a shame we can't do the same in real life.

Find out more on the dedicated website (when I checked it there wasn't a lot of content up yet).

Suggested read
For more magical adventures involving dragons check out Dragonskin Slippers by Jessica Day George (Children's, 7 years +, 10E/10E)

Author Q&A + Competition

It's been fun for me to put forward a few questions to Christie about Journey To Rainbow Island, I'm sure you'll find her answers interesting! 

Nayu:  1) Dragons are a classic element of fantasy stories - what made you pick these for Yu-Ning's adversaries?

Christie: The dragon is an archetype of chaos and disorder, and one of the main messages of this book is that when we choose love, order and serenity can prevail. I picked dragon as a representation of the shadow self, the ego, and then had Yu-ning represent the light that we all are. It's her mission to transform darkness and evil creatures (ego, shadow self) into light. 

Nayu 2) I'm squee-ing heaps over the fact that Yu-Ning has a bow - what made you give her the bow as a weapon? Have you got experience in archery?

Christie: I had to check the Urban Dictionary for "squee," but I'm glad you are excited! And of course, more recently in fantasy fiction and film, bows are finding their way into the hands of the ladies-  Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games and Princess Merida in Brave spring to mind.  I don't see it as a weapon really- it’s made of light, which she shoots out to transform darkness. I wanted to turn the violent aspect of the bow on its head by making it a weapon of transformation, rather than an instrument of death in the traditional sense. That's all I can say, however, because I don't want to spoil things! And no, I've never actually taken up archery--but perhaps I will now. 

Nayu 3) Did you ever consider having Yu-Ning be kidnapped, and somehow escaping then searching for the seven stones?

Christie: Yes, I wanted the book to involve a kidnapping. However, because so many of our fairy tales involve a damsel in distress, I wanted to instead create a "gentleman in distress." So rather than the female protagonist needing to be rescued, we have Yu-Ning working to rescue her best friend, young Romeo.

Nayu 4) Emotions are very much part of the story and I suspect I'll need a tissue while reading it: had you intended of sadness to be a main part of the story, or did it evolve as you wrote it? 

Christie: Children today live in and among sadness, and the sad stories we see in the news are so readily accessible. Just 75 years ago young ears and eyes could be sheltered from the saddest events in the world by turning off the radio and keeping the daily newspaper out of reach. Today, however, with technology, it's nearly impossible to keep even the most horrific events from children. My goal in Journey to Rainbow Island was to deal with some very sad issues, but to do so in a way where young readers will feel empowered to do something about those sad feeling--to choose love and redemption rather than giving in to hopelessness.

Thank you Christie for the insight into your novel. Now, for those of you intrigued by Yu-Ning's adventures, please do enter the competition below to win 2 copies! 

Rules: One entry per person. Please make sure you read through my protection policy. 
To enter: Just fill in the form below! Please note that 2 copies are up for grabs, 1 is a hardback copy for anywhere in the world, the other is also a hardback copy for a winner in the US (or, if no-one enters from the US it will go to a winner living anywhere)


Mary Preston said...

This does look exciting & quite intense.

Gina R said...

Liking the cover and I agree, a frog sidekick is pretty nifty. Thanks for the chance! ^-^