The Story: The Isle of the Lost, by Melissa de la Cruz, focuses on the teenage children of four of the biggest Disney villains who are eternally exiled to the Isle of the Lost. Even though their parents are quite notorious, Mal, Evie, Jay, and Carlos have a high standard of villainy to live up to if they aspire to be as great as their parents. However, it seems like nothing they do is ever
good bad enough until an ancient magical artifact awakens and Mal is determined to make her mother proud by laying claim to it. But she won’t be venturing alone as even the daughter of the most wicked fairy in the land still needs friends.
My Take: My interest in this novel was thanks to seeing advertisements for the made-for-television Disney movie, The Descendants, which, much like the book here, focuses on the offspring of four of the most notorious neer-do-wells in the Disney universe. Granted, I’ve seen the movie, which was an enjoyable, light-hearted romp (I even downloaded the soundtrack – stop laughing!); but my views here are based solely on the novel, which is billed as a prequel for the movie as it sets up the main characters.
Overall, I found The Isle of the Lost to be a speedy, entertaining read. Plot-wise, the novel focuses on and fleshes out the lives of four young antiheros: Mal, daughter of the evil Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty; Evie, daughter of the vain Evil Queen from Snow White; Jay, son of the wizard Jafar from Aladdin; and Carlos, son of puppy-hatin’ Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians. These four teens, their parents, and others like them (read: villains) have been banished to the Isle of the Lost by King Beast (from Beauty and the Beast) who rules the United States of Auradon. Life on the Isle isn’t terrible but it’s not great either (especially with all of those villains battling for attention!). As far as the four leads are concerned, they aspire to be as bad as their parents but they’ve not quite earned their proverbial stripes.
I really enjoyed the character dynamics, which is what caused me to bump this up from three-stars to four-stars in my Goodreads review. Even though this is a fantasy story, the teen characters here have to contend with making their parents proud (something that’s a part of growing up even in the real world). Mal struggles most of all as her mother rules the Isle, so Maleficent constantly reminds her how she’s just not measuring up. Elsewhere, Evie hopes to maintain her mother’s high standards of outer beauty; Jay is determined to be the best thief on the Isle; and Carlos, who is an inventor at heart, struggles with his fur-loving mom and her demanding ways.
Even though these kids are the flesh and blood of notorious folks, I called them antiheroes for a reason. They’re not do-gooders by nature so the titles of “hero” and “heroine” don’t fit. On the other hand, these kids aren’t full of cold-blooded, black-hearted evil, so they don’t qualify as true villains. Instead, they’re antiheroes – figures who are neither consistently moral nor abjectly immoral and who do make good choices at times. The best instances of this arrive in the book’s latter half where the gang seeks out the Dragon’s Eye, a magical artifact that, if found, will cement Maleficent’s power beyond the Isle’s borders. Even though from the start Mal acts like this is all about her, her attitude changes and she shows that she’s not entirely like her mom in a very good way. As a whole, while there is some teenage drama here, it’s not all-encompassing as the story focuses more on developing the lead characters as individuals, not having them constantly squabble or wallow in angst.
Always a good thing – ’cause I like my books (relatively) drama and angst-free.
Overall, character-wise, this is a fun romp and long-time fans of Disney will be pleased with the incorporation of many familiar faces. The author clearly knows her Disney neer-do-wells and presents them in a light that, much like a Disney film, doesn’t negate the fact that they’re not heroes but doesn’t make them psychotic and bloodthirsty either. This novel was also very respectful of the classic Disney canon as nothing here reeks too much of modern times nor becomes questionable in terms of content.
As stated, the characters saved this from being a three-star read for me. Writing-wise, this novel is a simple, quick read for adults, but at times it’s almost a little too simplistic though it manages not to insult an older reader’s intelligence. To be fair, this wasn’t penned chiefly with grownups in mind anyway. That being said, the best audience for this novel would be pre-teens and young teens (i.e. ages 10 to 15), also the target audience for the movie, The Descendants. Anyone younger probably won’t appreciate the character dynamics and/or Disney villain line-up (as they might be too young to be familiar with much of the canon), and anyone older than 16 might not be attracted to the novel’s easy-breezy delivery. However, as an adult reader, I liked it enough to keep my eyes out on any future titles if this happens to become a series as it certainly has potential and I’d love to read more.
Content: Overall, parents and guardians should have nothing to fear in handing this novel off to Disney-loving pre-teens or teens (though I always encourage parents and guardians to read books first as everyone has a different spectrum for gauging appropriateness for various ages):
Language – Essentially none aside from some invented words.
Violence – Essentially none other than some nasty (but overall harmless) pranks some of the villains pull.
Sexual Content – None. Evie tends to have a flirtatious streak but nothing ever goes beyond the boundaries of good taste.
Thematic Elements – There can be some tense family dynamics as the parent villains make it a habit of reminding their offspring how they don’t quite measure up. While this doesn’t occur on every page nor does it become depressingly dysfunctional, it does serve as a motivating factor for why Mal and her pals do what they do.
Overall, The Isle of the Lost is a fun, frothy read with colorful characters and plenty of potential for future adventures. While the writing itself can be a bit too breezy in terms of simplicity, it works as a suitable vehicle to carry the plot and characters, which are the centerpiece of the story more so than the story’s delivery. For pre-teens and young teens, this is a treat, and adult readers can enjoy it, too, for its homage to some of Disney’s best of the worst.