Published by Enclave Publishing on September 15, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Fantasy
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On an uncharted world, happiness is effortless and constant ... but can true joy exist without sacrifice?
The people of Meriel have long believed their island world floats alone in the vast ocean universe, so they are astonished when another island drifts into view. With resources becoming scarce, Carya and Brantley quickly volunteer to search the new land for supplies.
After navigating a barrier of menacing trees, the pair encounter a culture of perpetually happy people who readily share their talents and their possessions. But all is not what it seems. At the core of the island is a horror that threatens everyone, including Brantley and Carya.
Freeing the villagers of the bondage they've chosen may cost Carya and Brantley more than they could have imagined. Even if the two succeed, they'll have to find a way to return to Meriel quickly ... or be cut off from their home forever.
The Dancing Realms came to me with highest praise. The back of the book contains endorsements from fantasy authors like Wayne Thomas Batson and Jill Williamson, with the key endorsement coming from NYT bestselling author and former dancer Tosca Lee. The first book, Hidden Current, was all about how worship can influence the natural world using dance as an allegory for worship. In that book, we are introduced to Calara, part of a cult-like group that trains young girls to dance because their movements influence and manipulate events on the world of Meriel. But she soon discovers that The Order is built on nothing but lies and have been manipulating dancers for their own nefarious purposes.
The sequel to that book is this one, Forsaken Island. It’s virtually a standalone novel, meaning that it doesn’t follow up the story of Hidden Current, but creates a new one that follows the characters from the first. In this book, the inhabitants of Meriel—who have always thought their island to be the only one—are surprised by another island floating into view. Calara, Brantley, and the crew from book one are sent to investigate and hopefully bring back resources that will save Meriel.
My key criticism with the book is that it didn’t have to be a Dancing Realms book. The hook of Hidden Current was understanding how dance affected the world. In Forsaken Island, that theme and storyline is purposefully made lame. Instead, the characters are sent into a morality tale bereft of the magic that made the first book so good because the metaphor no longer fits the storyline.
The allegory itself was serviceable, if simple. The inhabitants of the island are continually happy and giving, but there’s a sinister reason behind it. They’ve sacrificed their ability to remember the past in order to preserve their current emotional state. It’s a bit ham-fisted of an allegory, not nearly as elegant as dance-as-worship and Hinck just bashes you in with the message to the point that it overwhelms the story.
Ultimately, I was left thinking that as a novella or a short story, where allegory as the sole intention of the story really shines, this would have been a much stronger book. At novel length, it has to stretch out the story and does so not by making the storyline more complex, adding a B story, or developing the characters, but simply by maintaining the course of the single storyline. Forsaken Island is a story written for the moral and, as such, it comes across too strong. There’s no tension to the story because you know what it’s working toward before it gets there. Authors can mitigate this through deep and relatable characters, secondary storylines, and so on, but we didn’t any of that with this book.
Taking a look at other reviews, it’s obvious that I’m in the minority. So the truth is that Sharon Hinck is perhaps writing exactly the story the people buying her books want. I can’t fault her for that. Ultimately, the story simply doesn’t live up to the world created in the first book.