Review: The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton


Published on 1 September 2015
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Series: Black Tulip #1
Age: Middle Grade
Word Count: 352 pages


The Vanishing Island tells the story of twelve-year-old Bren, who desperately yearns for adventures on the high seas, far away from his town of Map. The year is 1599 and after a series of unsuccessful runaway attempts, Bren stumbles upon the Order of the Black Tulip, which enables him to go on the sort of adventure he’s been hoping for, in search of the island from Marco Polo’s final voyage. His talent at recreating maps and objects after seeing them only once makes him an integral part of the mission, as well as his ability to solve riddles and puzzles. What Bren finds one he’s at sea, however, makes him question whether or not the adventurous life is the life he wants to lead.


I received this book from the publisher on Edelweiss; I am not being paid for my review.

The main plot of this book is solid. The mystery surrounding both the voyage and the Black Order of the Tulip is done well, and leaves the reader wanting to find out what will happen by the end of the book. I also liked that the book is set in a sort of real world/fantastical world hybrid, and that there are a lot of parallels between the actual 1599 in this more fantastical setting. I do think a lot could be said about the dangers of colonialism in this type of series, and it would be interesting to see how it’s handled in a book aimed for younger readers.

It’s not an entirely unique story, though. A lot of the characters and plot points fall into trope territory. Bren is the usual boy who wants to be a sailor and go on fantastical adventures, only to find out that perhaps it’s more dangerous than it seems. He has absent parents and a kindly (though sarcastic) old man that advises him. There’s the admiral, who is a character that you can’t quite figure out: is he good? Is he bad? Is he both? There’s the quiet Mouse, who befriends Bren on the ship and takes on a ‘side kick’ status. I lot of it was just predictable. And the points that I liked in the plot felt rushed once you get to the end of the book. I felt there could have been a bit more time exploring this possible world and more time developing the answers to the questions that Bren seems to solve awfully quickly.

I think this is a solid enough story for young readers, and while it may be predictable, it is still a fun read. What I hope to see in the next installments of the series is a bit more character development and more time spent exploring the world and its possibilities.


Until next time, happy reading!

–E. Adeline


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