Book Review: The Quest to the Uncharted Lands

After reading The Mark of the Dragonfly and The Secrets of Solace, and loving both, I was all gung-ho to read aloud The Quest to the Uncharted Lands to my son. All three books are set in the same imaginary world of Solace. We started to read Quest in summer, got about a third of the way through, and there it sat for weeks and weeks. He wasn’t all that interested. I couldn’t believe it — Jaleigh Johnson is a solid writer, creating imaginary worlds and stories that connect with each other in interesting ways, and you can sense her love of inventing gaming-style worlds — so I kept asking, Can I read now?

No, he kept saying. Not now.

Finally, I gave up (sigh) and said if he wasn’t going to listen to the story, I was going to read it myself. OK, he replied (I think he was worried he was hurting my feelings), and yesterday, I finally had time to devour the rest of the book, and again, I was deeply immersed in the world that Johnson has created in her literary imagination. Most of all, and the reason I keep coming back, is that her characters are so alive in this fictional world.

This third story is an adventure story with a strong girl protagonist (Stella Glass) who sneaks onto an airship about to explore uncharted lands beyond the mountains. On board, she meets another hidden child, a boy (not quite a boy) named Cyrus, who is trying to return to his own lands beyond the mountains and has the ability to save the ship from storms and from sabotage. For someone on board is intent on destroying the ship before it crosses the mountains.

The story races ahead with action, adventure, intrigue and never loses sight of its characters. The Quest to the Uncharted Lands is definitely a book I can put into the hands of my sixth graders, and although the other two books are somewhat connected, there is no need to read them in any order. I suspect Johnson has some grander design here (or is that my hopeful reading?), but you can enjoy each book on its own.

I love her map at the start of each book, and I was intrigued by a post on Johnson’s site about where she writes about the landscape and where inspirations for her world came from. This map of Solace has been expanded west in the new book.

As for my son, I worry that the female protagonist turned him off. He denies this. Maybe he just isn’t up for fantasy adventures, or the story itself didn’t connect with him. We just got Rick Riordan’s new Magnus Chase book in the mail this week, and he has indicated he wants me to read it aloud to him. He’s a boy at age 13, so this is still a huge thing — letting your dad read aloud to you. So I am holding on to the ability to do so as long as possible, as we head off on another adventure together.

Peace (on an adventure),

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