I have always had a soft spot in my heart for islands. I was born on the Northern Mariana island of Saipan and raised on the neighboring U.S. Territory of Guam. My favorite book growing up was L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, set on Canada’s far away Prince Edward Island, and over the years, I’ve visited Hawaii, Jamaica, Nantucket, the United Kingdom. You get the picture. I like islands.
I like them so much that two of my books, Isle of Blood and Stone and Song of the Abyss, are set on the fictional island kingdom of St. John del Mar. Both stories were also inspired by a childhood love of the Indiana Jones movies, as well as a lifelong fascination with old, old maps.
Here are a few of my favorite books set on islands, both real and imagined.
Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
“It is very hard to be human, little fox. Even the humans themselves don’t do a great job of it.”
In this Japanese-inspired fantasy, Yumeko is a half-human, half-fox raised by the monks of the Silent Winds Temple. The monks have in their possession part of an ancient scroll that, when made whole, will summon the Great Kami dragon from the sea and grant its possessor a single wish. When her guardians are murdered by demons searching for the scroll, Yumeko manages to escape, only to tumble directly into the path of a brooding young samurai, one who may end up being her fiercest protector, or her deadliest enemy.
The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan
Sixteen-year-old Leilani lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with her parents and younger brother. The seizures brought on by epilepsy have changed the way she lives, forcing her to give up gymnastics and limiting the time she can spend on her beloved surfboard, out in the open sea. When Lei and her father travel to Oahu to begin clinical trials of a new epilepsy drug, a global disaster strikes. The cellphones stop working, then the Internet, then the power grid. Hawaii is cut off from the outside world. Lei and her dad must find their way home, traveling across islands where lawlessness abounds and food is scarce. Through it all, Lei’s seizures grow stronger, and carry with them the voice of a mysterious being, one whose identity may hold the key to saving her island.
I love disaster fiction, and this book, written by an author with a degree in tropical conservation from the University of Hawaii at Hilo, comes with a beautifully rendered setting. The second book in the duology is called The Girl at the Center of the World.
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
In this wonderful collection of short stories and fairy tales, fifteen acclaimed authors share retellings inspired by their own East and South Asian cultures (including Japan and the Philippines). In “Forbidden Fruit” (Roshani Chokshi), a mountain loses her heart to a human, with unexpected consequences. In “Eyes Like Candlelight” (Julie Kagawa), a young boy rescues a fox from certain death. It is the first encounter between boy and fox, but not the last. And in “Code of Honor” (Melissa de la Cruz), a lonely vampire witch (called an aswang) travels the world searching for a place to call home, before finally arriving in Manhattan.
The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano
Elin’s mother is a respected beast doctor charged with caring for the Toda, the terrifying sea serpents that make up part of the king’s army. But when a number of serpents die under suspicious circumstances, her mother is stripped of all honor and sentenced to death. Uprooted from her village by the water, Elin must find her own way in the world, coming of age in an unfamiliar land, and coming to terms with her own mysterious abilities to communicate with the Toda.
Set in an alternate version of Japan, The Beast Player is an excellent start to the duology by Nahoko Uehashi (followed by The Beast Warrior), who is also a professor of cultural anthropology.
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
Nix has sailed across the world and through the centuries alongside her time traveling father, who has never recovered from the death of Nix’s mother. When a map from 1868 Honolulu surfaces, it gives him the opportunity he’s been searching for-to travel to Hawaii the year before her death and save her life. But no one knows for sure what will happen if he tries to change the past, and his obsession will put Nix-her past, present, and future-at risk.
This book has all the good stuff: science fiction, fantasy, Hawaiian history and mythology…and a sequel. Be sure to check out The Ship Beyond Time.
Makiia Lucier grew up on the Pacific island of Guam and has degrees in journalism and library science from the University of Oregon and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her historical fiction and fantasy titles have appeared on many notable lists, including the Kids’ Indie Next, the American Booksellers Association’s ‘Best Books for Children,’ and the American Library Association’s ‘Best Fiction for Young Adults.’ Her forthcoming YA fantasy, Year Of The Reaper, hits shelves on November 9, 2021. She lives with her family in North Carolina. Visit her at her website or on Instagram @makiialucier.