Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “City of Islands” as Want to Read:
City of Islands
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

City of Islands

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  201 ratings  ·  60 reviews
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
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published July 24th 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about City of Islands, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Raiha Maybe you should google that.
Maybe you should google that.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
Rating details
 ·  201 ratings  ·  60 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of City of Islands
Renee Godding
3.5/5 stars

Despite the beautiful worldbuilding and great premise, this wasn't as magical as I was hoping for.

Set in a city comprised of (you guessed it:) islands, we follow Mara, a young treasurediver searching the ocean floor for valuables. Instead she finds the skeletons of strange creatures, thought to be long forgotten, humming with magical powers. This sets her off to a new adventure, uncovering the secrets of her city, aswell as the strength that lies within herself.

The best thing abou
Claire Fayers
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Adriana Mather
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
The Captain
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: young-adult
Ahoy there mateys! Earlier this year I really enjoyed salvation day and so I decided to pick up another of the author's books.  I went with this one because of this part of the blurb "In a foggy archipelago called the City of Islands . . . Mara has always been fascinated by the magic that drifts on the air as songs . . . Mara must earn her keep by searching for magical treasures deep in the murky ocean."  Sea yarn with super cool world building sign me up.  So the problem?  I didn't like the plo ...more
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
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, middle-grade
Fun middle grade adventure fantasy story. I enjoyed Mara a lot--plucky but not perfectly fearless, resourceful, caring of her friends tempered by a healthy dose of self-involvement. Liked the worldbuilding a lot and wish we could've seen more of the mage society, though there wasn't really time/space within this book. My only qualm is that the book was a bit crowded with characters, especially sort-of antagonists. I liked the two main Big Bads, but there were a few other forces all working again ...more
Meredith Johnson
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I picked the book City of Islands completely based off the cover of the book. Sometimes I like to pick out my next book by going to the library and looking at the covers in my favorite genre. I think it's kind of fun that way!

City of Islands is not written for someone my age. I would say it's more of the 3rd to 6th grade age group. I like to try out books for my kids, and lets face it, I love reading any type of genre. When I came home from the library, my 9 year old took the book and read it f
Kathy MacMillan
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Chelsea Walker
Mar 14, 2020 marked it as dnf
I picked up this book because it was about islands, in an attempt to get some ideas for my own island based WIP.
However, after getting about 30% of the way through, I don’t feel like finishing it beyond this point.

It does seem like a good middle grade though, with islands and magic and mysterious bones. I would still recommend it for a younger reader.
A pleasant fantasy world building but with forgettable characters.

The world building was nice and reminded me of Robin Hobb's Realms of the Elderlings, so it was nice but not outstanding for an adult reader (a kid would probably have been a little more impressed). The magic based on songs was a good idea and for once, I'd no problems reading the short parts dedicated to songs (in other books, I skip them... yes I'm looking at you boring 1st volume of Lord of the Rings). The various magical parts
Noor Khan
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"City of Islands" is an amazing book - I was completely hooked by the first few pages, immersed in a world like none other I'd ever read about before. With "City of Islands," you are not just reading about another magical world - you are diving into an elaborate culture, filled with legends and myths and god-like beings, as complex and horrible and beautiful as our very own society. There are far too many magic books out there than anyone knows what to do with, many very similar - but with "City ...more
May 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
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 ...more
Mar 01, 2020 added it
This was such a quick and fun read, but it ended up being a lot darker than I was expecting.

This book follows our main character Mara, who lives in a world made up of islands (an archipelago honestly) and is a diver who retrieves artifacts from the ocean floor and delivers them to a master. This world had an ancient society who has now been lost, so they're trying to find relics from that time. Mara ends up gaining favor with the master and sent on a quest under the sea and what she gets is a l
Bish Denham
Nov 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
I liked this story well enough. Being an island girl I could identify with it to some degree, though I thought all the rowing and diving and swimming between islands was not very realistic, unless those islands were very close together, but I never got a sense of how close or far apart they were.

A fathom is 6 feet. On Mara's first dive the author says it's only 4 or 5 fathoms which is 24 to 30 feet. At my best as a young adult I could free dive 25 feet with time to look around for a minute or s
Marathon County Public Library

Orphaned as a child, twelve-year-old Mara works as a servant for the powerful Lady of the Tides by diving into the murky sea for ancient artifacts supposedly containing residual magic from the magical Founders who built their beautiful city thousands of years ago. While diving with her friend Izzy, Mara begins hearing songs reminiscent of the songs her mother used to sing to her, leading her to some strange bones that appear to be singing to her. Instead of her mistress being pleased with this d

S.M. Parker
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
City of Islands is a young fiction book (I think it's aimed at gradeschool, but would do well enough for high school or anyone who cares for a good fantasy yarn) with much to recommend it. Beyond a unique magic system - something I always adore in a novel or series - the book is inclusive without being Strange about it or only showing things off to show them off (I'm not sure how to word it, but often times these days representation is given in a sort of "look here it is" way rather than being I ...more
Dec 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was drawn to the cover of this one, and I wasn't disappointed. Some people on here said they didn't think it was "magical" enough...I don't know, it seemed pretty filled with magic to me. The world had enough development to make for an interesting background, but it wasn't as fleshed out as it could have been. The "city of islands" was comprised of multiple islands, but only a few were really discussed. It would be a good setup for a series of books where the other parts play a role, but even ...more
Angela Kidd Shinozaki
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 19, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lorie Barber
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kids
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 ...more
Joy Pixley
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book so much! Mesmerizing world-building, an amazingly brave, loyal, and determined young female main character, and a compelling plot with believable tension and relatable actions, all delivered with smoothly beautiful, immersive writing. Oh, and the magic is wonderful – they cast spells with songs! Underwater! You have to read it to appreciate it, and I strongly suggest that you do.

One of the best secondary-world fantasies I've read in a while, including those for adults. Definite
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great magic system that isn't fully explored because the protagonist is a beginner and self-taught. This book doubles down on the orphan -- Mara loses two sets of parents before the book even begins, and fights back to learn trust even while reshaping the magical understanding of her island-nation. Grit and determination are her trademarks, as well as compassion and loyalty. The actual adventure is fairly straightforward, but the moral implications give it weight. ...more
Jill Young
Mar 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Juvenile Fantasy. Story took awhile for me to get into it. If you enjoy the idea of a city composed of various islands, mages with different magical abilities, strange hybrid sea creatures, and an adventurous 12 year old orphan, Mara, who dives for treasures for the Lady of the Tides, then this might interest you. I do get annoyed when editors don’t catch mistakes and this one was so obvious, mistaking one character for another. Recommended 4 through 7th grade.
Oct 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ya, fantasy
Iselected this book as my prize for the Library's summer reading challenge, and I'm so happy with my pick. Mara is a strong heroine and the city itself is a fascinating setting. It's a classic one slightly outcast kid against great odds fanatasy adventure, and while there's resolution it's not theeverything wrapped up in a tidy bow sort of ending. The book doesn't end with an obvious sequel, but I'd be happy to read more stories set in this place with these characters. ...more
Shawn Remfrey
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: home-library
Simply magical.

This book is like reading a Disney story for the first time. Powerful characters and a stunning world blend to bring you a unique experience. There's plenty of action and adventure. Some younger children may be frightened by some scenes, but none of them are gory or brutal.

This is one of the most perfect young adult/older children's books that I've read.
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent fantasy set in a city made up of islands (somewhat reminiscent of Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, but that's probably just me). The characters are distinct and likeable, the world is interesting, and the plot kept proving my guesses wrong. If you want a well-imagined and suspenseful middle grade novel, this is it! ...more
(╯`▭´)╯︵ (dǝꓭ ƨ'ɒnɒ⅃) ǝɔnɒꓷ

It had a pretty slow beginning, but it did start to pick up the pace towards the halfway point. I became more intrigued by the magic system, and it was a nice, quick read. I do wish the book had been a little longer to go a bit more in-depth about the magic and the overall setting, but for what it delivered it was a pretty good and light read.
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Sanity & Tallulah
  • Willa of the Wood (Willa, #1)
  • Nightbooks
  • The Line Tender
  • Follow Me to Ground
  • The Elders (Foxcraft, #2)
  • The Taken (Foxcraft, #1)
  • The Mage (Foxcraft, #3)
  • The Tygrine Cat (The Tygrine Cat, #1)
  • Paper Things
  • The Light in Hidden Places
  • Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster
  • Into the Crooked Place (Into the Crooked Place, #1)
  • The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker
  • Queen of the Sea
  • Keeper of the Lost Cities (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #1)
  • The House in Poplar Wood
  • Alessia in Atlantis: The Forbidden Vial
See similar books…
Kali Wallace studied geology and geophysics before she decided she enjoyed inventing imaginary worlds as much as she liked researching the real one. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, F&SF, Asimov's, Lightspeed Magazine, and She is the author of the dark, fantastical teen novels Shallow Graves (2016) and The Memory Trees (2017), as well as the middle grade fantasy adventure C ...more

News & Interviews

  As dedicated readers already know, some of the best and most innovative stories on the shelves come from the constantly evolving realm of...
22 likes · 6 comments