I absolutely loved this book. It is fanciful, dramatic, clever, and beautiful. Diana Wynne Jones' last story is a masterpiece.
Reminiscent of Clive Barker's ""Abarat"" series and J.R.R. Tolkien's ""The Hobbit"", ""The Islands of Chaldea"" is an epic fantasy quest contained within the pages of a single lovely novel. The plot moves at just the right pace: sometimes a page-turning thrill, sometimes slow and contemplative. The cast of characters is well-rounded and interesting. There is so much character development that you easily get attached to all of them, the friends and enemies alike.
What I loved about it:
Aunt Beck. That woman is the best mother ever. It doesn't even matter that she isn't Aileen's real mother. Aunt Beck is so amazing. Like, Molly Weasley-level of amazing. She is tough and smart, loving and caring, while still being obtuse and mysterious at times. Seriously, if I had one wish right now it might be to have Aunt Beck become my fairy godmother.
Aileen grows so much over the course of the story. This isn't just a book. It's not just a quest. It's Aileen actually growing up and becoming a Wise Woman, making friends and reconciling differences, overcoming challenges and finding long-lost relatives. It is Aileen coming to terms with her own maturation, her own feelings and needs. Aileen's growth is very natural and relatable, and it's one of the strongest aspects of the story.
The cute-ugly magical cat. Seriously, every fantasy book needs a magical cat. I was quite pleased to discover that ""The Islands of Chaldea"" has a magical cat, and he is incredible. And powerful. And sneaky. And clever.
Will you love it? Do you like epic fantasy? Did you love ""The Hobbit""? Have you read every ""Forgotten Realms"" book ever written, and you're looking for something different? Then, yes. Absolutely. It doesn't matter if you're 11 years old or 50, I think you'll love this fantasy coming-of-age adventure. Highly recommended for fantasy fans, teachers, and librarians.