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City of Islands

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In a foggy archipelago called the City of Islands, twelve-year-old Mara has always been fascinated by the magic that drifts on the air as songs. But as a servant for the powerful Lady of the Tides, Mara must earn her keep by searching for magical treasures deep in the murky ocean. Then Mara finds the skeletons of strange hybrid creatures that haven’t existed in the city for In a foggy archipelago called the City of Islands, twelve-year-old Mara has always been fascinated by the magic that drifts on the air as songs. But as a servant for the powerful Lady of the Tides, Mara must earn her keep by searching for magical treasures deep in the murky ocean. Then Mara finds the skeletons of strange hybrid creatures that haven’t existed in the city for centuries—all humming with a powerful spell-song. Convinced her discovery will earn her the opportunity to study magic, Mara shares them with the Lady. But instead of a reward, the Lady gives Mara a new challenge: to sneak into the island fortress, the Winter Blade. Now Mara must dive deeper than ever before to survive her mission. The chilling truths that Mara uncovers along the way, about her past as well as about the secrets of her beloved city, are more dangerous—and magical—than she ever imagined.


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In a foggy archipelago called the City of Islands, twelve-year-old Mara has always been fascinated by the magic that drifts on the air as songs. But as a servant for the powerful Lady of the Tides, Mara must earn her keep by searching for magical treasures deep in the murky ocean. Then Mara finds the skeletons of strange hybrid creatures that haven’t existed in the city for In a foggy archipelago called the City of Islands, twelve-year-old Mara has always been fascinated by the magic that drifts on the air as songs. But as a servant for the powerful Lady of the Tides, Mara must earn her keep by searching for magical treasures deep in the murky ocean. Then Mara finds the skeletons of strange hybrid creatures that haven’t existed in the city for centuries—all humming with a powerful spell-song. Convinced her discovery will earn her the opportunity to study magic, Mara shares them with the Lady. But instead of a reward, the Lady gives Mara a new challenge: to sneak into the island fortress, the Winter Blade. Now Mara must dive deeper than ever before to survive her mission. The chilling truths that Mara uncovers along the way, about her past as well as about the secrets of her beloved city, are more dangerous—and magical—than she ever imagined.

30 review for City of Islands

  1. 4 out of 5

    Caleb Roehrig

    I don't typically read a lot of middle grade, but after finishing Kali Wallace's CITY OF ISLANDS, I might just start. This is a really charming (yet suspenseful!) story about a girl finding her voice, her place, and her confidence in a world full of people who overlook and underestimate her. The world-building is inventive, both in terms of the fully-realized geography and comprehensive mythology, and the story is thrilling, touching, and funny -- often at the same time. I love books where the ma I don't typically read a lot of middle grade, but after finishing Kali Wallace's CITY OF ISLANDS, I might just start. This is a really charming (yet suspenseful!) story about a girl finding her voice, her place, and her confidence in a world full of people who overlook and underestimate her. The world-building is inventive, both in terms of the fully-realized geography and comprehensive mythology, and the story is thrilling, touching, and funny -- often at the same time. I love books where the main character learns that they can rely on themselves, that sometimes they can be their own hero, and CITY OF ISLANDS will teach that lesson to kids who may feel overwhelmed by current events.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Claire Fayers

    I was so glad to read an early copy of Kali Wallace's latest book - her first middle-grade story. I'm a big fan of her writing and, with its world of islands, pirates and magic, this one was right up my street. I loved the characters - loved the fact that none of them are wholly good or bad. And the heroine, Mara, has to navigate her way through an increasingly complicated world, and just when you think you know what's going on, everything changes again. A great-page-turning plot, inventive world I was so glad to read an early copy of Kali Wallace's latest book - her first middle-grade story. I'm a big fan of her writing and, with its world of islands, pirates and magic, this one was right up my street. I loved the characters - loved the fact that none of them are wholly good or bad. And the heroine, Mara, has to navigate her way through an increasingly complicated world, and just when you think you know what's going on, everything changes again. A great-page-turning plot, inventive world-building and characters I'm missing already. I hope we'll see more books set in this world because there's plenty of scope to continue Mara's story.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Adriana Mather

    The magic! The adventure! The world-building! Um, yes, I love this book. Mara is such a fun, curious, and daring main character who faces a complicated world filled with secrets. She not only navigates her way through this magically complex world, but she finds her voice and the inner strength in the best way possible. I was so impressed not only with the touching and thoroughly entertaining story-telling, but the important messaging woven into this tale. Highly, highly recommend!

  4. 4 out of 5

    LaRonda (Flying Paperbacks)

    You can see my full review here! This story was more that I thought it’d be and it made my heart happy. The world building and lore was interesting; Some aspects of the magic system were a bit confusing, but not to the point where I couldn’t follow the story. Yet it was the main character that captured my heart. Mara was such a relatable lead- ambition yet insecure, caring, smart- I felt her loneliness and her hunger to make a name for herself. I was strangely emotional, especially towards the en You can see my full review here! This story was more that I thought it’d be and it made my heart happy. The world building and lore was interesting; Some aspects of the magic system were a bit confusing, but not to the point where I couldn’t follow the story. Yet it was the main character that captured my heart. Mara was such a relatable lead- ambition yet insecure, caring, smart- I felt her loneliness and her hunger to make a name for herself. I was strangely emotional, especially towards the end. It was really good. 06/25--This story made me weirdly emotional? *I received an eArc of this book from the Publishers through Netgalley in exchange of an honest review*

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kathy MacMillan

    Kali Wallace creates a stunning and unusual world in this fantasy that is at once bound up in myth and legend and grounded in the gritty reality of fish markets and hardscrabble village life. Mara is a brave, determined, and ultimately thoughtful heroine who both yearns for and fears magic, and is willing to ask difficult questions about the responsibilities that come with power. The people that she cares about - loyal Fish Hook, caring Izzy, even the stately and distant Lady of the Tides – are Kali Wallace creates a stunning and unusual world in this fantasy that is at once bound up in myth and legend and grounded in the gritty reality of fish markets and hardscrabble village life. Mara is a brave, determined, and ultimately thoughtful heroine who both yearns for and fears magic, and is willing to ask difficult questions about the responsibilities that come with power. The people that she cares about - loyal Fish Hook, caring Izzy, even the stately and distant Lady of the Tides – are fully drawn characters, some with their own surprisingly motivations. Underlying each of Mara’s discoveries is the yearning for family and grief for the loss of her parents and Bindy, the bone mage who took her in as a child. In uncovering secrets about the long-gone founders of the City of Islands, she also uncovers parts of her own past she might have preferred to stay hidden, and must come to understand a new definition of family.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Finley

    City of Islands is a wonderful novel, excellent beyond words. It follows the story of Mara, an orphan who had lost both her parents at a young age, then her teacher whom she had grown to love and trust only a few years later, leaving her to the life of diving deep into the sea for artifacts for the Lady of Tides to study, but rarely receiving any praise for her dangerous work. When she finds a strange skull, unlike any creature she had ever seen or which had been heard of in more than legends an City of Islands is a wonderful novel, excellent beyond words. It follows the story of Mara, an orphan who had lost both her parents at a young age, then her teacher whom she had grown to love and trust only a few years later, leaving her to the life of diving deep into the sea for artifacts for the Lady of Tides to study, but rarely receiving any praise for her dangerous work. When she finds a strange skull, unlike any creature she had ever seen or which had been heard of in more than legends and statues for generations, she is sent to find more, and then to discover where they had come from. This sends her on an adventure which will cause her to question everything she knows about her past, her present, and herself, but ultimately helps her let go of painful memories of the past, and discover the love of her friends and an inner power which will raise her above all expectation ever held for her, even by herself. I loved every moment of this novel. The characters were lifelike, with believable motivations and flaws, and the settings and events were rich and well-painted. I felt as if I was looking in on another universe, watching events as they unfolded, rather than reading a work of fiction. I was especially pleased with Wallace’s decision to make most of the main characters persons of color, as there are so few non-white characters in young adult fiction, and even fewer who take the helm of the adventure rather than being a token sidekick. Furthermore, it was a story which kept you on your toes, creating twists and surprises which would have been impossible to predict, but which are supported well enough that they fit right into the progression, making this a book that is impossible to put down. This book was beautifully written and a pleasure to read, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it. Other than a few spelling mistakes and typos which I am sure will be caught and corrected in the official release, and very few of them jarring enough to be disruptive to the flow of the story. It is obvious that Wallace has plenty of experience with writing, and knows how to create and tell dynamic tales. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys middle-grade fiction and is looking for a story of magic and personal strength unlike any they have read before. This book would be especially great for young girls and children of color, showing them that, no matter what background they come from or what obstacles stand in their way, they can find pride in themselves and happiness in their life if they never give up on themselves and do what makes them happy and feels right. I will be looking into Kali Wallace’s other novels and short stories, as I am very curious what other works she has written which helped shape her as a writer who was able to write City of Islands, and I hope she will write plenty more, as I would love to see what other stories she is able to weave from here on out.

  7. 4 out of 5

    S.M. Parker

    City of Islands is pure magic. Wallace has created a world that begs to be explored and Mara, our fierce young protagonist, has a heart that is so pure and wanting, I definitely ached for her. She is a master diver and secures relics from the sea, but the way her talent is manipulated throughout the tale is an excellent exploration of current event topics like the true cost of child labor, abuse and neglect. Her compelling fantasy illustrates how adults can be the horrible monsters in our very r City of Islands is pure magic. Wallace has created a world that begs to be explored and Mara, our fierce young protagonist, has a heart that is so pure and wanting, I definitely ached for her. She is a master diver and secures relics from the sea, but the way her talent is manipulated throughout the tale is an excellent exploration of current event topics like the true cost of child labor, abuse and neglect. Her compelling fantasy illustrates how adults can be the horrible monsters in our very real world. And yet there is hope and music and song—a deeper meaning and connection to the world—and this is the beauty of Wallace’s debut middle grade novel. In the literal underneath—this magical sea underworld Wallace creates—are the beautiful relics, the gems, the messages from those who came before. They are art and strength, magic and belonging. Mara finds her home within a home all while the reader discovers the secrets of the City of Islands because of one girl who dared to be brave. I could not put this story down!! Highly recommend!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lorie Barber

    I am so grateful to the publisher for an ARC of City of Islands for my #bookexpedition group. What an incredible middle-grade fantasy. Wallace’s descriptions (and that amazing map) invite readers in and surround them in a world built unlike any other. Characters are well-developed, the story arch is spot on for MG fantasy readers, and the allegorical aspect - the things people will do for power - are so appropriate for our times without being heavy-handed. I’m so very hopeful that this one will b I am so grateful to the publisher for an ARC of City of Islands for my #bookexpedition group. What an incredible middle-grade fantasy. Wallace’s descriptions (and that amazing map) invite readers in and surround them in a world built unlike any other. Characters are well-developed, the story arch is spot on for MG fantasy readers, and the allegorical aspect - the things people will do for power - are so appropriate for our times without being heavy-handed. I’m so very hopeful that this one will be the first on a series. I want to read more of Mara, her friends, the mages, the founders, and everyone in this magical world. I am really excited for this one to come out next month so I can purchase a copy for our classroom library!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jennybeast

    I'm not sure why this book didn't do much for me. Singing magic in a post-mer world is a pretty compelling set-up, but I think the sheer amount of neglect and abuse of children really bothered me. In some ways that's the point, and I know there are pearl diving children in the world right now who are living Mara's life, but I found that appalling, and I found her frustrating as a character and I thought the all-tied-up-in-a-bow ending was not believable. The adults in this book are pretty unifor I'm not sure why this book didn't do much for me. Singing magic in a post-mer world is a pretty compelling set-up, but I think the sheer amount of neglect and abuse of children really bothered me. In some ways that's the point, and I know there are pearl diving children in the world right now who are living Mara's life, but I found that appalling, and I found her frustrating as a character and I thought the all-tied-up-in-a-bow ending was not believable. The adults in this book are pretty uniformly horrible, and the magic can't make up for that. Advanced reader's copy provided by Edelweiss.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Annette

    This is a charming fantasy story, with a strong female lead character. The world was an interesting one, and my one drawback to the story is that I wish the magic system had been a little more fully realized.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Mather

    I loved this book. The world building was superb. The MC was engaging. The Founders and the ‘magic’ of song and music that was used to shape geological formations was original and fascinating. And it is an analogy for the reality of child labor practices that still occur worldwide. Well done!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kerstin Wolf

    The setting of this novel is truly magical. Of all the books I've read, the world that this story takes place in is one of the most unique and fascinating. I absolutely adore that magic is done through songs! This was a truly magical read that I would recommend to everyone.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    Enjoyed going on this mystical journey with Mara.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I got a free ARC copy of Kali Wallace‘s City of Islands in exchange for an honest review. To read my review, visit: https://stephsstoryspace.wordpress.co...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Layla Bennett

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

  17. 4 out of 5

    Scoutaccount

  18. 5 out of 5

    Adara

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

  21. 5 out of 5

    Awnali Mills

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jen

  23. 4 out of 5

    Erin Varley

  24. 5 out of 5

    Shadow

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maria Wang

  26. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Coe

  27. 4 out of 5

    Stefani Kirilova

  28. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

  30. 4 out of 5

    OwlCrate Jr

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