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City of Islands

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  143 ratings  ·  41 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
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4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  143 ratings  ·  41 reviews

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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
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
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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

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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 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.
Nathan Cunningham
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!
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.
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
Sandra Mather
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Eileen Winfrey
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Mara is sent by her master to find treasures beneath the sea to help discover ancient magic. Mara finds more than she was looking for about sunken treasures, magic songs and her own identity. A page/turner.
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I won a copy of this in a Goodreads Giveaway (!!), and I was really pleased with the story. There were so many twists and turns that I really didn't want to put it down. I loved Mara and her friends, and I really hope that the author does more in this world or with Mara.
Kerstin Wolf
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Solid 4.5. Really cool setting with really cool magic and mythology, with a very likable protagonist. Strong plot that doesn’t give itself away too quickly. Will definitely be reading the sequel, when and if there is one.
James S
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The best of her books yet! Sweet, and scary, and magical, and exciting, and...just go read it.
Lindy MacLaine
Oct 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Slow start, engaging characters, imaginative story.
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-sequoyah
Weird, but really good
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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 adventu ...more