Cover of The Isles of the Gods, featuring a blonde woman's face with her hair blowing across it above a ship on a rocky sea

About the Book

Title: The Isles of the Gods (The Isles of the Gods #1) 
Published: 2023

Cover Story: Big Face, Little Ship
BFF Charm: Mixed Bag
Talky Talk: Straight Up
Bonus Factors: LGBTQ+, Magic System
Anti-Bonus Factor: Religious Fanatics
Relationship Status: On Board

Cover Story: Big Face, Little Ship

The girl looks like Selly, with her windswept hair and tense expression, and since most of this story takes place at sea, it’s only fitting to have a sailing ship on the cover. The drawing style reminds me of some 1990’s fantasy book covers, in a nice, nostalgic way. I would have liked to see the other characters too, though.

The Deal:

The kingdoms of Alinor and Mellacea may be on the edge of a holy war, but Selly Walker has no time for politics or religion. All she wants is to get away from her boring job as a ship’s deckhand and travel north to find her father, so he can award her the first mate’s position she’s always dreamed of. When Prince Leander of Alinor derails her plans by chartering her ship for a secret pilgrimage to the Isles of the Gods, her first instinct is to resent him (no matter how charming he is). But the Prince’s voyage could change the balance of power, not only between the nations, but their gods – and there are some who would do anything to make sure he never arrives.

BFF Charm: Mixed Bag

Brown paper bag filled with various BFF charms

There are five narrators; six, if you count the king in the 501-year-old prologue. On the Alinorish ship, we have brusque, no-nonsense Selly, charming Prince Leander, who’s more complex than he seems, and Keegan Wollesley, Leander’s former classmate, who is escaping an arranged marriage and heading for the Bibliotek, the world’s greatest library, to study. (As a fellow bookworm, he’s my favorite.) In Mellacea, we have Laskia, the ambitious younger sister of a crime boss, and Jude, who works for her syndicate and has an old grudge against Leander. Watching the lead-up to war from the perspective of both nations is interesting, as well as tragic, because you can see that both sides are human. Empathy only goes so far, however, and mine ran out after the first murder.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Selly and Leander’s enemistry is obvious from the moment she tucks a flower behind his ear, because “everything useless around here needs to be beautifully decorated,” and he calls her “naturally cranky.” They’re both right and wrong; he’s spent his life hiding from the responsibility of being royal, while she’s eager to command a ship, but doesn’t understand yet what that means. They learn a lot from each other, and later moments when they appreciate each other the way they are – Leander folding a paper boat for Selly to honor her love of the sea, or Selly admiring Leander’s magic – feel all the more precious because they’re earned.

Talky Talk: Straight Up

Most of the narrators share Kaufman’s easy, straightforward prose style, although Selly thinks a lot in nautical metaphors and Keegan’s language is slightly more formal than the rest.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ+

Pride flag being waved in a parade

I like the casual representation in this book. One of the gods is referred to with they/them pronouns, and so are some of the people the narrators meet. The queen of Alinor has a wife. Laskia is a girl who wears men’s suits and flirts with other girls. Jude is seeing a man named Tom. When Selly goes shopping for a party dress, she’s gently teased by the salesclerk about impressing “him or her.” Keegan is, in his own words, “not romantically inclined,” and his companions don’t bat an eye when he tells them. In this universe, being queer is totally normal. 

Bonus Factor: Magic System

Open book with moving pages in front of a glowing blue sphere and twinkle lights

The magic in this world comes from the spirits of earth, air, fire and water, who respond to sacrifice: if a magician offers them an object, it vanishes, and the magician can ask them for help. Since each element has a different personality, all wild and unpredictable, magic takes a lot of diplomatic skill. Also, the value of the object is in the magician’s mind. One coin can be enough to start a fire, but only if it’s your last coin. It’s an effective way to show the recurring theme of sacrifice.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Religious Fanaticism

A member of Westboro Baptist Church stand with hateful signs

The “green sisters,” an order of nuns who worship the sleeping god of Mellacea, believe it’s their duty to wake him up so he can win the war for them. Even though the last time the gods fought, an entire nation was wiped off the map and is now known as the “Barren Reaches.” 

Relationship Status: On Board

I’d join Selly, Leander and Keegan on their voyage anytime (not literally, because I’d be hanging over the rail seasick, but you know what I mean).

Literary Matchmaking

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2)

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzie Lee is another adventure story on the high seas featuring an asexual character.

Wild Magic (The Immortals #1)

Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce is the opening volume of another fantasy series featuring a war among gods and mortals.

These Broken Stars (Starbound #1)

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner also has a (not so) spoiled socialite and cranky commoner on the same ship, except in space.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received no compensation for this review. The Isles of the Gods is available now.

Regina Peters works in the video game industry, but her favourite imaginary worlds are on paper. She lives in Montreal, Canada, with her family.